Ethicist states the UK can "learn from" Costa Rica as it goes ahead with the closure of all zoos

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Ethicist and author, Robert Johnson, says Costa Rica's controversial plan to close its national zoos offers a lesson that the UK and other developed nations can learn from. The author of "Rational Morality - a science of right and wrong" (which is published by Dangerous Little Books) acknowledges that the increased strain on sanctuaries needs to be managed carefully.

Robert Johnson - author of 'Rational Morality - a Science of Right and Wrong'

We cannot claim to despise unnecessary suffering but then justify it whenever we want to see a large species of wildlife up close.

Costa Rica's controversial plan to go ahead with the closure of its national zoos (1) has been making waves around the world. The plan of releasing the zoo animals into sanctuaries, with others going straight into the wild if they are capable of surviving, is said to be the solution to increasingly poor conditions in the countries zoos. The Costa Rican government also noted that they did not want their country's image to be harmed by having a poor attitude toward nature.

Ethicist Robert Johnson applauds Costa Rica's decision as a matter of common decency.

"With all honesty we cannot claim to despise unnecessary suffering but then justify it whenever we want to see a large species of wildlife up close."

Not a stranger to controversy, Johnson is the author of 'Rational Morality: A Science of Right and Wrong', which aims to persuade people to act more consistently and scientifically in moral matters. He argues that central to this is accepting that other animals have interests that should be considered in moral decisions.

"Often when it comes to matters of non-human animals, we have seen that the argument is split between two irrational sides: the current status quo, which believes we should value our own pleasure over the immense suffering of other animals, and the opposition whom want the immediate release of animals with no practical plan in place. But what we have seen with Costa Rica is quite a middle ground on the issue; one that the UK and other developed nations can learn from."

"They have gone so far as to not only suggest that only the capable animals will be released into the wild, but also provisionally asked sanctuaries to take in the weaker or less prepared animals and allowed those people in guardianship of wild animals to stay so until their peaceful deaths."

Not everyone agrees with Johnson. There is a genuine fear that zoo closures may lead to sanctuaries becoming overcrowded. But Johnson doesn't see this as a terminal problem for Costa Rica's new policy.

"An over-reliance on shelters does not mean they made the wrong decision: these animals were taken from the wild at no fault of their own, and so as neutral human beings it is on us to change that decision based on us noting the immoral logic we once used. We should thus close the zoos and look after those with no way to survive independently, until their natural deaths in sanctuaries. Costa Rica simply has to go further and either provide public funding for the over-stretched sanctuaries, or find a solution to the problem it now faces."

'Rational Morality: A Science of Right and Wrong' (ISBN 1908675179) is available now as a paperback and Kindle ebook.


(1) Costa Rica set to close public zoos and release the animals back into the wild, The Independent, .

Robert Johnson is a practical ethicist and philosopher of science, graduated in Philosophy from the University of Aberdeen. He specialises in the intersection of morality and rationality, whilst being a staunch advocate of science and evidence based endeavours. Learn more at

If you would like Robert to provide expert comment for your publication or programme, please contact him directly.


  • How do we formulate a coherent moral code in a world without religion?
  • How can we show natural ideas like 'moral relativism' and 'egoism' to be irrational?
  • Moreover, how can we create a genuinely scientific and rational theory of morality which, so far, has evaded academics?

Rational Morality sets out to answer these questions by presenting a new form of ethics for the Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins generation; creating 'moral science' from 'moral philosophy' in the process.

In this passionate, thought-provoking and often radical thesis, Robert Johnson presents both a refreshing theory of morality based on science and a guide to the practical consequences of what a truly rational concept of morality involves. Exploring rationality, atheism, animal ethics, determinism and politics in the modern world, Johnson uncovers some surprising and original arguments in each area.

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Robert Johnson
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