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Lessons in Health Care from the Edinburgh Zoo

Those confined to cages enjoy longer, healthier lives.

by
Theodore Dalrymple

Bio

January 29, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Anyway, as I gazed at the chimps eating their leeks — which, rather to my surprise, they seemed to prefer to everything else — I was subject to a sudden illumination. One of the chimps, a female, was 48 years old according to one of the boards giving information about the whole troupe. She was in fine fettle from the look of her, by no means geriatric or in need of a walking/climbing frame. But chimpanzees in the wild have a life expectancy of only 15 years; a mere seven percent of them live to be 40.

In fact, I had already noticed that the life expectancies of all the animals in the Edinburgh Zoo were about double those in the wild, and that set me thinking. Captivity is good for animals, at least for those that can be kept in it.

Now it is a self-evident truth that all animals are created equal and endowed by their creator with unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But it takes little thought to know that of these three rights, that to life must be primary, for without it the others are null and void. It is perfectly obvious that you can’t be free or pursue happiness if you’re dead.

This surely means that, if you are an animal lover, you should try to reduce any animal that you see in the wild at once to captivity, at least of the Edinburgh Zoo variety. Failure to do so is de facto condemning that animal to an early grave. The animal will be better fed, have fewer parasites, and be sheltered from the bad weather if you capture him. Above all, he, or it, will have much better health care than in the wild. Indeed, in the wild animals are even worse off than Americans without health insurance.

What would Blake write now, knowing this?

A robin redbreast in the wild
Gets a Democrat all riled.

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Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His new book is Second Opinion: A Doctor's Notes from the Inner City.
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