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'Captivity is degrading’: Why a major city is shutting down its zoo

By Elahe Izadi

June 25, 2016 at 6:01 AM

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After 140 years, the Buenos Aires Zoo is closing to make way for a brand new ecological park. The zoo has been plagued by scandals over the conditions of its animals and its facilities. (Reuters)

The Argentinian capital has hosted a zoo for more than 140 years. But that's coming to an end, Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta announced this week, as he unveiled plans to transform the facility into an ecological park.

"This situation of captivity is degrading for the animals, it's not the way to take care of them," he said Thursday, the Guardian reported.

"Animals have to live in their habitat, not in the middle of buildings," the mayor tweeted.

Most of the Buenos Aires Zoo's 1,500 animals will be relocated to Argentinian sanctuaries and to locations overseas, according to the Associated Press. Some of the birds will be released in a riverside ecological reserve spanning 864 acres in the city.

The zoo has had its fair share of problems that have attracted international outcry. Last year, two sea lions died within three days of each other.

Related: [Elderly elephant collapses and dies after giving rides to tourists in Cambodia]

Zoo workers protested what they said was mistreatment of the animals and staff members, claiming the situation caused "preventable [animal] deaths," according to the Argentina Independent.

In 2012, the zoo's last polar bear, Winner, died after having to endure high temperatures and fireworks during the Christmas season. The 14-year-old male had been transferred from Santiago, Chile, and was a feature attraction at the Buenos Aires facility.

A polar bear eats fruit from a Christmas tree made of ice and decorated with special meals prepared by zookeepers at the Buenos Aires Zoo on Dec. 8, 2004. (Enrique Marcarian/Reuters)

On Thursday the city's mayor said "today this place generates more sadness than happiness."

The move follows news of a zoo closure in Canada, where the director was charged with animal cruelty-related offenses.

Some countries have tied to shut down public zoos altogether. Costa Rica attempted to close its public zoos in 2013 as officials proclaimed animals shouldn't live in captivity, but the government lost a court battle the following year.

Related: [Opinion: The Cincinnati Zoo’s problem wasn’t that it killed its gorilla. It’s that it’s a zoo.]

In Buenos Aires, the zoo has been privately operated since the 1990s. Its license was set to expire at the end of 2017.

The new ecopark will be "a place where children can learn how to take care of and relate with the different species," the mayor, according to the Guardian. "What we have to value is the animals. The way they live here is definitely not the way to do that."

A rhino at the Buenos Aires Zoo on June 24, 2016. (Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty)

Some of the animals that are too old or sick will remain at the ecopark, the Guardian reported. That includes Sandra, an orangutan that an Argentinian court recognized in 2014 as a "non-human person" that has a right to freedom.

"The most important thing is breaking with the model of captivity and exhibition," said animal rights lawyer Gerardo Biglia, a longtime activist pushing for the zoo's closure, the Guardian reported. "I think there is a change coming for which we are already prepared because kids nowadays consider it obvious that it's wrong for animals to be caged."

READ MORE:

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The unsurprising diet secrets of zoo animals

The long battle to remove elephants from the Ringling Bros. circus


Elahe Izadi is a pop culture writer for The Washington Post.

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