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Have your say: Can we view animals in captivity without sacrificing their well-being?

Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free the Children and Me to We, seek solutions to significant social problems. In Brain Storm they explore an issue, solicit informed opinions or new ideas from experts, and then throw open the discussion to Globe readers.

We can still picture the vibrantly coloured footsteps of elephants, monkeys and lions on the paths of the Metro Toronto Zoo as we bounded excitedly to visit our favourite animals once a summer as kids.

What kid doesn't love going to the zoo?

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Earlier this month, Jafari, a 12-year-old giraffe, died of unknown causes – the third giraffe to die suddenly at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in the last year. In August, a senior trainer at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., resigned, citing horrific conditions that compromised the health of the facility's whales, sea lions, walruses and other marine animals.

North Americans flock by the millions to zoos and aquariums to see up close the magnificent creatures with which we share our planet. But it's worth asking whether our keenness for closeness asks too much of our more exotic friends.

This week's question: How can we balance our desire to know our favourite animals without sacrificing their well-being?

The experts:

Ian J.H. Duncan, Emeritus Chair in Animal Welfare, University of Guelph

"The opportunity a zoo gives for seeing, hearing and smelling live exotic animals from close range has no substitute, [but] the traditional concept of a zoo has to change. The more progressive zoos now keep a more limited collection of species that are known to adapt well to captivity and are suited to the climatic conditions of the particular zoo. "

Delcianna Winders, Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation

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"There is nothing educational about viewing animals who have been warehoused in unnatural settings that deprive them of everything that is natural and important to them. The only thing that zoos teach people is that it's acceptable to capture wild animals, separate them from their families and homes, and confine them to cramped enclosures."

Barbara Cartwright, CEO, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies

"The best way to have a meaningful, educational experience with wildlife is to observe and view animals expressing their natural behaviours either in the wild or through an ethically developed documentary. A captive environment will never be able to truly reproduce a wild experience in which an animal is free to live a normal existence in which it can meet its physical, social, behavioural and psychological needs."

Bill Peters, National Director, Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums

"Zoos and aquariums are the best opportunity for most Canadians to get to know animals, to learn about the issues impacting their survival and to be motivated to take actions that will help out. Accredited zoos and aquariums that meet high standards of care are best equipped to pass on the knowledge gained by their experts through working with their animals and participating in field work and on-site research through quality educational programming."

Have your say in the comment section.

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