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Freedom: Is the Human-Animal Double-Standard Defensible?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Giant Panda, 28 Jul 2017.

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  1. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    Freedom is generally considered a basic human right, albeit with caveats. To clarify, I mean freedom in a physical sense, ie. as the absence of literal, external containment. By this definition, obviously most zoo animals are not free. I don't think I'd be a member of this site if that fundamentally bothered me. What I'm wondering is: should it?

    Perhaps other forumsters adopt a different stance, instead believing that removing animals' freedom is the lesser of many evils. However, I imagine the majority are ambivalent at worst about this inherent facet of captivity. My supposition is manifested not only in our collective zoo obsession, but also keeping pets, consuming livestock products, using those tested on animals, etc.

    So, here's my question: is there a rational justification for the apparent double-standard? Why should freedom be a basic right for humans, but not other animals?

    I look forward to / hope for some interesting thoughts.
     
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  2. Kakapo

    Kakapo Well-Known Member

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    The basic reason is that this right is purposed by humans, and as most animal species, we care for our own species infinitely more than for any other species.

    Second reason is that our social biology is extremely much more developed than in any other animal. Most animal species kept in zoos perceive captivity as something good: the comparison with humans would be not the absence of physical barriers, but the access to the modern society with whatever food we want inmediately and easy to acces, medicine, enteraintment, have the climate that we want (inside our houses), etc. Leave a zoo animal free, in most cases, would be likely leave an human abandoned in the forest or in a moutain, far from any civilization.

    And third: I also want to remember that humans are not physically free, at least in western society: school children are confined in their colleges from most part of their day, and they don't have the choice of go outside when they want. And obviously nobody thinks that is bad, as, in my tought, nobody should think that a captive animal, once filled all their social and welfare needs in a way that they can be feel good inside their enclosure, is something bad. Obviously always are exceptions (species whose needs are too difficult or impossible to replicate in captivity, for example whales, humans, obligated migratory species, deep sea species, etc), but for most species the captivity is OK.
     
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  3. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    You might want to read some of Frans de Waal's recent books, especially "are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?"

    It is more developed, but by a smaller degree then you might think...

    Do you have any evidence for this claim, as this is something impossible to infer directly...

    No, it would be like leaving a small child who has always been cared for, that did not have to do anything and without any real sense of danger free in New York City. He would have to learn a lot really quickly or things end up badly...

    But still we keep a lot of species where we cannot replicate all their welfare needs, we are keeping a lot of migratory birds in aviaries of less than 20 square meters and migratory birds like cranes cannot even fly... We can recreate enough of the basic needs to keep animals alive, get them to breed and nowadays also enough to fulfill behavioral needs, but that is still very much a work in progress...


    Personally I do not think that many animals, like hoof stock, know they are held captive. But I am sure great apes are very well aware of the extent of their "freedom". The problem with this freedom debate is that in the wild most animals are also not free, either because they have a certain territory or whether they live in a "landscape of fear". So movements in the wild are also limited, but still much less then in zoos. For example chimpanzees have territories over 1000 times the size of zoo enclosures (and which much more height as well...), so they are able to show behavior that is impossible in almost all zoos, such as the splitting of one group into several smaller groups that go on foraging trips. For obvious reasons we also do not provide them with a rival group to interact with. And in zoos searching for food, normally a main activity, is something that takes much less time... The question whether freedom is also a fundamental right for animals is hard to answer with regards to zoo animals, as I personally think even animals aware of the limits in their enclosures can be perfectly happy and would maybe not be happier to have "complete freedom"...

    Overall the main difference between the wild and zoos is that the freedom is limited in different ways (fences vs. territory/predators/food availability), so broadly spoken no animal is free at any time, but overall wild animals have a broader choice of where to be, which is also freedom in some way... Imo the question is more whether it is ethically correct to limit this type of freedom to a certain level and I think that in most cases we can reach a certain threshold level (which differs between species) at which we do not limit the 2nd type of freedom too much, but this differs again between zoos... I think we all agree that it is ethically bad to keep chimpanzees solitary in 12 square meter cages, but having them roam a wooded area of over a hectare in a larger group is acceptable.

    For some animals we will never reach this acceptance threshold, large whales are an obvious example (though it could theoretically be done with infinite resources...). What bothers me more is larger birds of prey, which often cannot fly for more than 5 seconds in zoos, whereas they spend large time in the air normally showing a whole array of behavior from gliding to mating dances... We can keep them alive very well and many species have excellent breeding records, but whether we reach their threshold, I am not sure...
     
  4. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    Large birds of prey in the wild, spend much of their time perched, often sunbathing. We see a disproportionate amount of their time in the air, because they are more visible to us up there, than sitting in a tree.
    As to migratory birds, many species lose the drive to migrate after a generation in captivity, evidenced by the many geese and cranes that have been kept at full winged liberty. It has even been noted that wild caught geese, kept wing clipped for a season, remained on site after regaining their powers of flight.
     
  5. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    Yes but not the 99% which they do in most zoos and even if the time spent on these activities is rather small, you could argue that it is indispensable.

    That they lose this urge again does not change the fact that their form of freedom is altered in a significant way and they lose an essential component of their wild behaviour...
     
  6. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    I think we have to accept that captive animals lead different lives to their wild counterparts, very few of them get to kill prey for example (I'm not advocating that they should). While I realise this is not acceptable to everybody, it works for me, and I suspect for a lot of animals too.
    I am concerned that a lot of these 'discussion' threads have an anti-captivity feel to them.
     
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  7. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    What we do need to look out for, in captive populations, is a change of physical appearance and ability. For example, captive tigers can show skull differences from wild ones if they are not given sufficient exercise for their jaws. Lack of chewing means their cheek muscles don't develop, and the skull does not develop to anchor those muscles. Apparently, and this is worrying, some genes can get 'switched off' without this being apparent. Having said this, it's surprising what persists. For example, most pheasant and waterfowl species were artificially reared (usually by bantams) for many years, as they were too valuable to be left with the parents. Currently, a lot of these birds are now parent reared, and the parents show no loss of parenting ability after generations of not being allowed to use this behaviour.
     
  8. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    I don't share this and in this thread I do not see any such feelings. Having discussions about whether animals can/should be kept are necessary in a business that does exactly that is important, as it identifies the reasons why we do so and identifies potential problems and justifications to current ways of keeping animals.
     
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  9. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    A great book, and definitely a must-read for anyone interested in animal intelligence.

    I agree with most of what lintworm wrote about the species-specific acceptance threshold. And I must say I too feel a little uncomfortable when presented with raptor aviaries in which the inhabitats can hardly fly (I do, definately, enjoy ones where they can!)

    However, the fact that an animal displays certain behaviour in the wild doesn't necessarily mean that it needs that behaviour to lead a "fulfilling" life (whatever that means). One of the most obvious examples is running away from predators (behaviour that can be seen in many taxa in the wild). I don't think a gazelle or zebra needs that to have a good life, and I can only hope I'm not the only one. This, of course, is an easy example. Things like migrating for small songbirds or fighting with rivals for deer are already a more complicated. To make it more difficult: can an animal have a fulfilling life without reproduction (including all secondary behaviour required for reproduction)? I personally keep animals that will never have a chance to reproduce. Am I doing a good thing (preventing overpopulation without culling) or a bad thing? And does the fact than the animals I mentioned are insects make it easier or only more complicated?
     
  10. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    Never-mind anti-captivity arguments. They miss the point, IMO.
    Fundamentally this definition of Freedom is at odds with most societies' concept of property rights. Humans also have restrictions about where they may go including property rights (and national restrictions). Animals "in the wild" clash with human concepts of property all the time (whether elephants raiding farms or caterpillars in your garden). In most parts of the world they cannot be considered free by this definition either. Are animals in a Reserve free? Zoo animals have the extra limitation of themselves being property.
    So if you can defend the concept of property rights then you must accept restrictions on the freedom you imagine.
     
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  11. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all the replies.

    To clarify, I'm not just interested in how the restriction of freedom reduces the welfare of animals (the science bit). What I'm getting at here (and what only @Zooplantman has really defended) is the ethical question of whether restricting freedom is defensible in itself. This is where my double-standard lies: I believe it is defensible for animals provided their welfare isn't compromised, but indefensible for humans regardless of whether they'd be happier in a cage (think The Matrix, The Truman Show, or A Clockwork Orange).

    @FBBird: Promoting debate would only be anti-zoo if zoos were indefensible. Personally, I believe justifying the central tenet of captivity is crucial to supporting it.

    Interesting take, but if physical freedom and restrictions on movement were mutually exclusive, we humans wouldn't have physical freedom. I can't visit Australia without a visa or wander blithely into my neighbour's garden, however I still have greater freedom than someone confined to a school or prison. So, I'll absolutely grant you a gradient of freedom, but zoo animals would cluster at the lower end of that spectrum in a group virtually discrete from their wild counterparts.

    That, to me, suggests your response is more semantic than applicable to the real-world. Indeed, even if it is valid, it only introduces a new human-animal double-standard. You could equally say that imprisoning someone without cause is acceptable, because their movement is restricted either way. Yet you'd presumably consider that morally wrong because humans have a fundamental right to freedom (even with its restrictions), so why don't animals?
     
  12. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    Sorry, I don't buy it philosophically.
    I don't buy your assertion (without explanation or support) that "Freedom is generally considered a basic human right"
    I don't buy your equivalency of human rights and animal rights (which is implicit in your reference to a double-standard)
    So there is little to really grapple with here, IMO

    "You could equally say that imprisoning someone without cause is acceptable, " If your assertions about freedom as a right stand, then how does one handle imprisoning a human under any circumstances? Apparently rights can be revoked. Can you address your question without first considering this one?
     
    Last edited: 30 Jul 2017
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  13. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    Do you not buy that a) it is a basic human right, or b) it's generally considered to be a basic human right?

    As for a), surely a basic human right is fundamental, universal, and inherent. Not being a human rights lawyer, I have no idea how one might explain or support that further. Hence why I sought recourse from b) and only noted that it was "generally considered". The right for humans not to be arbitrarily deprived liberty is guaranteed by Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Articles 3 & 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution etc. etc. Again, I'm not a human rights lawyer and my interpretation may be wrong, but I fail to see how this is controversial.

    I have explicitly stated – repeatedly – that I don't equate human and animal rights. That's the point of this thread. What I'm looking for is a coherent argument why. In other words, I asked ZooChatters precisely what you're now trying to throw back at me: a defence of the non-equivalence of human and animal rights where freedom is concerned. So let me try again: if you don't think those rights are equivalent, why not?

    As for the reference to a "double-standard", I agree it carries an unfortunate connotation. My wording was chosen for the sake of brevity, with the hope that any offended parties would read my post and recognise that I was trying to dispel said connotation. In general, I have tried to neutralise pejorative connotations, for instance coupling prisons with schools.

    I did consider it. I noted in the first sentence of this thread that the right to freedom comes with caveats, legal imprisonment included. This prevents individuals impinging on the basic rights of others. As far as I can tell, that justification doesn't apply to zoo animals. However, you're welcome to argue that rights come with corresponding duties which animals cannot comprehend.
     
    Last edited: 30 Jul 2017
  14. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    I have no basis for guessing what IS a basic human right, but as to whether it is generally considered one.... it seems to me it is a very Western perspective. Depending on what this "freedom" is, as i understand it neither Confucianism, Islam, Shinto or any number of other culturally influential philosophies would buy into what I think you mean. Yes, the idea is popping up all over but it is not "generally accepted" as far as i know.
     
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  15. Ned

    Ned Well-Known Member

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    Presumably animals can't reflect on their situation, a lion born in a zoo has no knowledge of the wild so as long as it's not suffering I can't see a problem. If a human was in captivity and unaware of it, would that be an issue? If they were content with life then I can only see a problem if they later found out their life had been a lie but a lion's not going to discover that so I don't think there's a double standard.
     
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  16. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I feel like ignorance of the victim does not necessarily excuse the actions of the perpetrator...
     
  17. Ned

    Ned Well-Known Member

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    You see zoo animals as victims, I don't
     
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  18. SealPup

    SealPup Well-Known Member

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    I don't see freedom as a right given how many people choose to live like hikikomori. Furthermore the problem with humans is the same as zoo animals: freedom or not, given the choice they become inactive, behave unnaturally and become ill.

    Humans are just animals.
     
  19. carlos55

    carlos55 Well-Known Member

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    Freedom is not a universal human concept. Most non western languages do not have a word for freedom. Zooplantman is correct o this mater. Birth,death,páin,suffering,body are universal human concepts but freedom is not. I am an anthropologist and i know this. Passing to animals the Notion of freedom is rather antropocentic.
     
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  20. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    That is not what I said.

    I don't necessarily disagree with your conclusion that keeping animals in captivity is different than keeping humans in captivity. My point was that one's ignorance of an action done to them does not make the action morally justifiable if it wasn't already. If one believes that keeping a human captive is immoral, then it is still immoral if they don't know they are captive.

    To give an example: if you steal money from me, and I don't notice, you still did something immoral.

    Edit: I suppose this depends on your philosophical view as well, as from a utilitarian perspective maybe the lack of knowledge about being wronged does make a difference.