The argument against zoo captivity wages on this week as a man was arraigned in the beating death of a Patas monkey held in an Idaho zoo.
Earlier this month, 22-year-old Michael J. Watkins broke into Zoo Boise overnight with the intent of stealing a monkey in order to sell it. Inebriated, and apparently void of compassion, Watkins told authorities he crawled into the zoo's Primate House and wrapped the animal inside his jacket. Watkins then attempted to “hurl it over the fence,” presumably to an unidentified accomplice, and that's when the monkey bit him.
In retaliation, or “self-protection” as his defense attorney claims, Watkins beat the animal to death with a tree branch. A necropsy later confirmed the monkey died as a result of “blunt force trauma.” Now sober and reportedly remorseful, Watkins faces up to ten years in prison for felony burglary and grand theft.
This isn’t the first time a zoo break-in has resulted in the gruesome deaths of the animals held there. In recent months, a Tasmanian zoo opened one morning to find that its enclosures had been vandalized, locks cut off of fences, and over 60 rare and endangered animals missing. Whoever was responsible also brutally killed nine of the zoo’s birds in the process.
And stateside, a San Francisco-based monkey, affectionately known as “Banana Sam,” was stolen from his zoo enclosure in the middle of the night. Though he was found several days later wandering the streets, zoo officials report Sam was visibly traumatized and hungry.
According to National Geographic, zoos can be attractive to thieves because they offer easy access to animals that they can sell on the black market. Chalk it up to another reason that keeping animals captive is a wholly unhealthy proposition for most of them. Despite changes to the way that zoo inhabitants are housed, including the exchange of cages for “enclosures” that look more like their native habitats, animals are still confined to small spaces when they need to roam free; they’re deprived of privacy, which has been shown to be emotionally stressful for them; and they’re prevented from engaging in their natural hunting and mating activities.
Worse, the zoo framework simply solidifies for people that animals are objects―things to be stared at, stolen, sold, like possessions we own, not creatures we’re protecting
For the Idaho monkey who was killed at the hands of Michael J. Watkins, it’s a brutal end to a life lived in captivity.
What kind of punishment do you think is appropriate for people like Watkins who kill or otherwise hurt animals?