If you haven’t noticed it by now, I’m kind of an animal freak. I am that annoying person that points out every dog ever and brings home wounded, flea-infested magpies named Gordon only to cry when they die two days later. (Yup, that happened. Last year.)

Orangutan yawning at the San Diego Zoo
He's not too interested in the question.

Like many little girls, my childhood days were spent imagining my future life as a zoologist or marine biologist. (My hopes were dashed in middle school when I realized I sucked at science.) I have had a plethora of pets, from anoles, guinea pigs, and an owl, to my beloved 100 pound Akita.

Akita and girl
My baby girl, Kimi

I still love visiting zoos while I travel, and was really looking forward to my visit to a fauna mecca: The San Diego Zoo. (Please check out this photo essay of my time there!)

While I was exploring, however, that little voice in my head popped up, saying, “Is this a good thing? Are the animals happy?” It shows up every time I find myself at a zoo, aquarium, marine park… or Bear Country USA. (What? Haven’t heard of it? It’s in South Dakota, and is awesome. I’ve been there. Twice. Is that weird?)

It is a topic that even animal experts disagree on. Zoos educate the public about endangered animals and the destruction of habitats, but at the cost of a select few.

Is the zoo animals’ sacrifice worth it to help their population?

If you asked me if I had to live in a cage with a few mangy others to keep the rest of the human population alive, I would do it (and pretend I was on LOST… is a Jack going to be provided?), but I don’t think I’d be stoked about it.

Cow-like animal at the San Diego Zoo
This cow-like animal kept sticking his tongue out at me!

After spending a summer in Alaska and seeing orcas up close in the wild, they quickly became one of my favorite animals. Getting to know them made me realize that they should never be confined to a tank. My feelings were only confirmed after a Sea World trainer was killed by an orca later that year.

Being that orcas have never attacked a human in the wild, that made it clear that something wasn’t right. I have thus sworn off Sea World or anything similar. Elephants, too, are very large animals. No matter how big their enclosures are, it never seems enough.

On the other hand, seeing those shows and being mesmerized by the animals throughout my youth made me into an enthusiastic donor to the Humane Society and World Wildlife Fund. I have also sponsored seals, dolphins, and turtles through marine organizations. Sure, I had Zoobooks and Ranger Rick, but that didn’t really compare to seeing the animals up close.

Polar bear statue at the San Diego Zoo
I wouldn't know how giant polar bears are unless I had visited the zoo!
And seeing the wonder on the childrens’ faces at the San Diego Zoo, I couldn’t help seeing the future generations of animal lovers and protectors.

I am no expert and am (obvs) very torn about my feelings on the subject. I think it must depend on a number of factors, such as zoo qualityΒ (just say NO to shitty zoos) and types ofΒ animals kept (their size and habits).

Should only endangered species be kept in zoos? Though zoo animal life expectancy is longer, does that make up for the animals’ quality of life?

I would LOVE to know what you think. Do you support zoos and/or aquariums? Why or why not? How about places like Sea World? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!