This last ethical choice often comes as a surprise to non-vegans. When it comes down to it, zoos don't kill animals in order to function, after all; indeed, they often claim to be protecting them through captive breeding programs and awareness-raising initiatives. I am sure that there will even be other fellow vegans reading this who agree with that view.
Whilst it is not my intention to outline the arguments against this here (many organisations such as the Captive Animals Protection Society have excellent resources on the subject), if I were to summarise my viewpoint in a couple of sentences, it would be this: when making money and attracting more and more visitors is such an important concern in running a zoo, it is inevitable that the animals' own best interests will not be put first. We need to work towards preserving animals in their natural habitat, not in cages.
With this in mind, I have been somewhat saddened by the number of zoos which exist in Brazil, and indeed the number of other tourists I have met who have been going to them. When I've asked people why they choose to go to the zoo here rather than travelling to the forest (which is close to here, relatively cheap and easy to visit and utterly beautiful), the most common response I have received has been that it's a guaranteed way to see native animals from Brazil.
I don't think it will surprise you to hear that I think this is a very poor excuse. Why do we, as humans, think we have some kind of right to see these animals, and why do we think that right trumps the right of these animals to live a free existence in the wild, in their own natural habitat? In my view, this is simply not right. Even beyond the ethical problems that I have with all zoos, in Brazil the animal welfare standards are extremely low, with animals kept in tiny cages and without enough things to keep them entertained. Why otherwise lovely, kind and compassionate people would choose to give their money to support this, simply so that they can say they saw a real, live jaguar, monkey or macaw on their holidays, is beyond me.
Whilst I was in the state of Pará, I went on an amazing two-day jungle trip to the Tapajós National Forest, where we went canoeing and walking in the forest, and we saw so many animals who were in their natural habitat and clearly very happy, not least because the forest is protected by law. There was no guarantee that we would see any animals at all, but with the help of our skilled guide we saw a monkey, a sloth, caiman, anacondas, enormous spiders, so many different types of birds and fishes, butterflies, insects, a coati, frogs, an anteater, dragonflies and so much more besides, in just two days! I've added some photos of the highlights from the trip to the end of this post.
With these amazing options available to see wild animals in their native habitats in Brazil, I really do urge you to forget going to the zoo and take the trip of a lifetime into the jungle instead to see the animals first-hand in the forest which is their home. You won't regret it.