As you may already know, each exam period here at the University of Southampton sees a petting zoo arrive on campus. I cannot deny that this human-animal interaction can alleviate student stress levels. However, I think it is important that we ask: at what cost? While guinea pig selfies seem harmless enough, the truth behind these petting zoos is far from cute and cuddly.
For me, the major ethical issue with these travelling zoos is the transport involved. Animals are confined on the long journeys that see the petting zoos travel up and down the country. These animals are often tightly caged and placed in the dark. This is hardly the stress-free image portrayed by SUSU each time the petting zoo visits Southampton.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have added that: “Animals used in traveling exhibitions are almost constantly confined to tiny transport cages or trailers. They suffer in extreme temperatures and are denied adequate food and water because transporters don’t want to bother with frequent stops to feed and water the animals and clean their cages. Without exercise, animals become listless and prone to illness, and as a reaction to stress and boredom, they may resort to self-mutilation.
Although here PETA is referring to all animals – including those that are not domesticated, the message is still relevant. Even the domestic animals that arrive on campus need stability, freedom to exercise and their own personal space – all of which is denied by the petting zoo phenomenon.
Another reason why the petting zoo should be controversial, is due to the threat of disease. In 2009, the Guardian called for a ban on these travelling zoos to reduce the threat of E-coli. As these animals are often badly treated and kept in cramped and often overheated cages, they are prone to spreading disease. This is a serious worry, particularly during exam time when health plays such a key role in student success.
Stirling University have already taken action by banning the petting zoo for future use. It is time that we follow in their footsteps. We need to prove that Southampton students value the welfare of animals over five minutes of stress-relief. The university students should not forfeit their ethics to stroke a rabbit, cuddle a lama or pet a guinea pig.