Week 2: The Ethical Nature of Vivariums

During the beginning of lecture, the professor and visiting student (Maru) mentioned the vivarium. A vivarium is an enclosed space for life that is often surrounded by glass and allows containment of an environment inside one’s own home/space (Soper 2017). The vivarium is traditionally thought of as a tool for researchers, for the enclosure allows scientists to study plants, animals, and other organisms in a controlled and confined space. However, the vivarium is now a concept that most individuals have experience with, whether that is through a fish tank, houseplant or pet hamster. Maru’s project is to enclose a human inside of a glass container; at first thought, I interpreted the project to be making a statement about the confinement and interference of the natural world by humans. Maru’s upcoming project prompted me to reconsider the ethical implications of vivariums, for their existence is both beneficial and detrimental to nature.

There are likely hundreds or even thousands of vivarium types that exist within the modern home. Some vivariums serve as space for one’s pet, while other vivariums exist for mainly aesthetic and personal pleasure. For example, “aquascaping” has become increasingly popular, as it permits unique and beautiful plant variations to exist in one’s home. Pictured below is an example of how an aquascape may look, and aquascapes may or may not also include fish.

Source: https://featuredcreature.com/11-mind-blowing-aquascapes-will-enchant-socks/

I am conflicted about the use of vivariums because although they may serve beneficial purposes, it is hard to discuss the ethicality of such items. For example, vivariums must be responsibly maintained and monitored in order for the environment to remain healthy and clean. Many household vivariums may go neglected for long periods of time, often resulting in death of the enclosed environment.

Source: https://www.fishlore.com/aquariumfishforum/threads/inherited-tank-looks-gross-please-help.266876/

Vivariums may seem like fun and games, but they require a lot of research, responsibility and housekeeping. If left unattended, the vivarium may end up appearing like the slimy fishtank pictured above. However, what should we think about those vivariums that are responsibly maintained and beautifully manicured? Does the planet benefit from vivariums, since they allow life to exist in places it otherwise would not? Are humans manipulating the power they have when they decide to place other organisms in a box for display? To consider these questions on a larger scale, perhaps it would be helpful to use the zoo as an example.

Source: https://www.seattleattractions.com/seattle-attractions/point-defiance-zoo-aquarium/

I think that zoos possess multiple vivariums. Without the vivariums, zoos would not be able to function the way they currently do. Zoos in and of themselves are a hot topic of debate, so why are personalized mini vivariums in our homes not discussed in a similar fashion? I think that humans tend to place higher value on organisms such as mammals and other large species. However, such a hierarchy of value may not accurately represent the true value of all organisms, no matter their size or aesthetic components. Consider mushrooms for example: mushrooms come in many forms, and embody hundreds of uses and benefits for nature. Regardless of the mushrooms' value to nature, humans tend to place mushrooms lower on the hierarchy, mainly because mushrooms are not thought to "think" in the way other animals are believed to. (However, many plants/mushrooms do in fact communicate with each other and probably even "think", as was discussed in lecture). Is human perception of hierarchy within the animal kingdom fair, or helpful?

Overall, I found Maru’s project proposal extremely thought provoking and symbolic. How would you feel if you were forced to live inside of a stuffy, glass enclosure at the demand of a “superior” species? Do some vivariums actually help the environment by providing safety to species at risk of extinction, or simply allowing greater dispersal of plants and organisms? Where do we draw the line between what entails an “ethical” vivarium and an “unethical” vivarium? All of these questions are up for discussion, and I think such questions are not being asked enough in the first place. Hopefully Maru’s project will provoke more individuals to ask such questions about vivariums, life, and the human perception of other organisms. 

Works Cited

Block, Melissa. “The Ethics of the Zoo.” NPR, NPR, 19 May 2005, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4658985.

“How Often Should I Clean My Fish Aquarium?” Www.kingbritish.co.uk, www.kingbritish.co.uk/help-advice/ask-the-experts/aquarium-care/water-quality/how-often-should-i-clean-my-aquarium.

LLC, New England Herpetoculture. “New England Herpetoculture LLC.” NEHERP, 2009, www.neherpetoculture.com/vivariumkits.

“Safety Glass Zoo Enclosures Keep Animals In and Humans Out.” Total Security Solutions, 6 Nov. 2017, www.tssbulletproof.com/safety-glass-zoo-enclosures-animals-humans/.

Soper, Mike. “What Is a Vivarium?” Setra Systems - Pressure Transducers, Transmitters & Industrial Sensors, June 2017, www.setra.com/blog/what-is-a-vivarium.

“Water Features, Water Gardens, Backyard Ponds by Aquascape.” Aquascape, Inc., 2016, www.aquascapeinc.com/.