Cross Country Checkup·CHECKUP EPISODE

Does Canada still need zoos and aquaria?

Going to the zoo As two giant panda cubs get ready to move from Toronto's zoo to Calgary's, some wonder whether visitor numbers and research are enough to justify animal captivity.
Five-month-old panda cubs Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue play in an enclosure at the Toronto Zoo, as they are exhibited to the media on Monday, March 7, 2016. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Going to the zoo.

Host of Cross Country Checkup, Duncan McCue. (Kevin Van Paassen)
As more and more of us move to cities, many children and adults never get a chance to see a wild animal other than squirrels, raccoons or pigeons.

It's one of the reasons why so many flock to zoos and aquaria. People want the chance to see a living creature in the flesh. We humans seem especially drawn to exotic species, ones that could never be seen in the Canadian wilderness such as lions, giraffes or increasingly endangered ones, such as whales. 

It's why millions trekked to the Toronto Zoo to view some roly-poly royalty.

Two giant pandas on loan from China — Da Mao and Er Shun,and their Canadian born cubs, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue — have wowed nearly six million visitors to the Toronto Zoo since 2013. Their time in Toronto is up though. Very soon,  they're headed for the Calgary Zoo, which they'll call home for the next five years before returning to China.

But as the popular pandas ready for their big move, some wonder whether visitor numbers and research are enough to justify animal captivity.

There's growing public unease about the ethics of capturing or breeding animals for entertainment or education. Last month, the Vancouver Aquarium gave up its fight to keep whales and dolphins in captivity, saying the heated public debate was hindering its conservation work. 

What is the modern role of zoos and aquaria, and what future they should have? 

Most Canadian zoos have done away with cramped, concrete dungeons and embraced a message of conservation. But some activists are against animals in captivity. They argue zoos are outdated, inhumane attractions that should be closed outright.

Our question: Does Canada need zoos and aquaria?


John Rieti, CBC reporter who has been covering the Toronto Zoo

Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of advocacy group Animal Justice and lawyer specializing in animal rights

Susan Shafer, Executive Director of Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquaria (CAZA)

Jo-Anne McArthur, award-winning photojournalist and author of  'Captive' - images from wildlife in zoos around the world 

Chantal Barriault, Director, Science Communication Graduate program at the School of the Environment at Laurentian University 

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