Are zoos good or bad? In Star Wars Adventures, Ezra and the crew of The Ghost are sent to track down a Argora, a divine animal for the Xendekian people. The Xendekians believed that the Argora brought rain and good fortune to their planet. Unfortunately, Imperial agents have stolen this bird and are threatening to lock it in a cage for the rest of its life. Imperial Captain Zarda is assigned to protect Dr. Hazlekk, who is tasked with bringing cages upon cages of animals back to Emperor Sheev himself. Sheev wants to add more of these animals to his personal zoo, which we have yet to see in canon.
This has some real life parallels. Zoos, a popular attraction for children, have been met with some forms of controversy. Certain types of confinement can produce depression or other behavioral problems for animals. The close confines of animal containment can cause problems when interacting with humans, leading to tragedy for animals. In this article, I want to examine a few different viewpoints on zoos through the lens of Star Wars Adventures: “Endangered.” The point of this article is not to form a conclusion on zoos, but to simply provide more context for the debate on zoos.
Some people oppose zoos on moral grounds. Animal rights activists claim that we have no right to contain and exhibit animals, as it infringes upon their rights to be free. This could be the case even with endangered animals: their endangered status does not mean that we de facto have the right to contain them. Not only do we hamper their freedom by containing them, but we also may reduce their life spans! Part of this may be due to their lack of space to roam free, especially in relation to their freedom in the wild. They die not only due to captivity; sometimes, zoos kill surplus animals. Some people aren’t fans of their breeding projects, either. In rare cases, some zookeepers have been known to beat animals to death. And, of course, when zoos charge an entry fee, there is the intense allure of profit over well-being of the animals.
It does not strike anyone in the crew, nor Hondo, to save any of the rest of the animals onboard. This suggests that the crew doesn’t have much of a problem with the concept of zoos with “regular” animals. Of course, they do free the animals, but this serves more as a distraction from Imperial notice instead of an altruistic moment. Maybe the crew of The Ghost does see something worthwhile in the concept of zoos, or it could be simply beyond the scope of their mission.
From just the data above, we may want to say that you can’t even own an animal yourself. It is interesting to note that in Star Wars, so far, we’ve only seen or heard about evil zookeepers. When Rey and Finn are brought aboard the Eravanna, Han Solo and Chewbacca are hauling rathtars for King Prana. In “Endangered”, Captain Zarda and Dr. Hazlekk are transporting the animals for Emperor Palpatine. Neither of them seem to have altruistic purposes in mind. Zarda kidnaps the Argora, removing an important cultural symbol for the Xendekian people. This does carry Imperialistic connotations: of course, every aspect of the Empire would have some sort of overreach, including stealing a divine bird. This could suggest some sort of critique on zoos: they remove animals of cultural significance and replace them in confinement.
The rest of the private animal owners we see? They’re not generally judged very well. In the Petranaki Arena, the Geonosians house different creatures in order to weaponize them. The reek, generally a herbivore, can be forced into eating meat if it is not fed well. Other animals in captivity, from the rancor to the Roggwart, naturally carnivorous, were killed when their owners used them as weapons against Jedi. Kept in cages, these creatures were pushed beyond any level of aggression and anger that they were supposed to reach, and were killed for being used as weapons.
We may find familiarity in a little girl’s tooka, something very few would find aversion to. This may be due to the fact that there is some sort of mutual friendship, benefit, and affection, not any sense of being used for any personal gain. Maybe, we can argue, Star Wars doesn’t see all animal ownership as a bad thing. Animal ownership, with altruistic purposes, mutual support and benefit, and proper care, can be good for both the animal and the owner.
There are potentially good aspects for zoos, too. Some zoos provide educational experiences, where children have the chance to learn something new about animals. (Whether or not they do, though, is a different story.) They can also expand our consciousness, reminding us that we are not alone in giving us the experience of animals we may never have a chance to see elsewhere. Some scientists believe that these benefits, in a good zoo, outweigh the problems some zoos present. Some zoos also act as conservation sources, where endangered animals and less threatened species can live in peace and multiply. This makes zoos necessary in many scientists’ minds. Thankfully, zoos are moving in a direction that seems better for animals, even if it isn’t total freedom in the wild.
Star Wars doesn’t seem to have a fully formed opinion on zoos yet. We’ve seen that the Specters weren’t so concerned with regular animals being added to the Imperial zoo. Their main concern is Imperial overreach, when important cultural animals are placed in zoos. Real life opinion seems torn, too, with arguments for and against zoos. Using this data, hopefully we can become more conscious consumers of zoo culture, weighing the good and the bad when we visit or bring our children along.