Why does the Life of Pi author discuss the animal kingdom's social hierarchy?

Quick answer:

The author of Life of Pi tells us about the social hierarchy in the animal kingdom to illustrate Pi's opinions on the subject of zoos. According to Pi, the social hierarchy among animals is just one of the reasons why they will never truly be free, even in the wild. A rigid social hierarchy is just one of the many inescapable facts with which animals have to contend in their daily fight for survival.

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In chapter four of Life of Pi, the title character mounts a spirited defense in support of zoos, which are often maligned as being cruel to animals. Pi has vast experience of dealing with zoo animals on account of his father being a zookeeper.

As a result, Pi has strong feelings about why zoos are actually a force for good than ill. If animals had the choice, reckons Pi, they would choose to live in a zoo over the wild. They'd be spared of ticks, parasites, and natural predators. They'd also be able to count on a regular supply of food.

For Pi, the notion that animals are freer in the wild than in captivity is inaccurate, not least because there will always be a distinct social hierarchy in the animal kingdom from which animals will never be able to escape.

Along with fierce competition for food and territory, what Pi calls “an unforgiving social hierarchy” makes for a very hostile environment for animals in the wild. In such an environment, fear is ever-present, with a constant need to defend territory. Under such conditions, it is ridiculous to talk of animals being free.

That being the case, Pi thinks it's ridiculous to attack zoos on the basis of animals' freedom when in reality their freedom is only limited to begin with.

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