Campaigns to improve the welfare of creatures such as crayfish and cockroaches are civilising.

A living creature is just about the last thing you would expect to be on display in a museum, which is probably why children are drawn to the "weird and wonderful" section of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

An insect that can move makes an exciting change from the dead specimens they expect. So exciting that children are liable to study it just to see whether it moves.

Not for much longer, though. The director, Roy Clare, has agreed with those who said the wetas, skinks, geckos, cockroaches and crayfish - especially the crayfish - did not look happy to be trapped there. The gallery will be cleared by the middle of next year.

The crayfish was in a tank under floor glass. Mr Clare told the Weekend Herald, "He didn't move very much. I don't know what a happy crayfish looks like but I suspect not in a small tank and having small feet jumping on your head."

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The cray has already gone, to where he did not say. Worse fates await those on restaurant display.

But Mr Clare is in step with the times. Animal welfare is strengthening in public concern. Sports such as rodeo that goad an animal into unnatural and possibly painful activity for human pleasure look increasingly to be on borrowed time.

Even horse racing has come in for severe criticism in Australia since the favourite died of heart failure after the Melbourne Cup this month.

Racing had already introduced rules restricting how often the whip can be used in the final stages of a race. But an animal rights campaign was pressing for much more, including a decent retirement from racing rather than being turned into pet food. Investors in bloodstock, breeding and training will hope the campaign never turns its attention to the fate of the greater number of thoroughbreds that never get to the races.

Racing will probably survive, though possibly not the steeplechase that takes a high toll in injuries and exhaustion.

What though of zoos? Clearing out the museum's menagerie, Mr Clare said the display of live animals was best left to zoos. Auckland's does a fine job.

The big attractions, giraffe, zebra, rhino and the like, have enclosures with plenty of room and natural boundaries. The lions can hide from public view and usually do. The tiger still looks too tightly confined but most of the animals are displayed in a way that suggests their integrity and wellbeing is as important as our opportunity to see them.

Even so, there are those who find no pleasure in seeing any creature in captivity.

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Increasingly, zoos justify their existence on grounds of conservation rather than entertainment. The survival of some species is probably more assured in captivity than it is the wild, particularly as their natural habitats shrink or poachers find them profitable.

The instinct to protect certain animals and make pets of them is one of the characteristics that makes us human. Other species do not commonly care for any but their own kind. But nor do the rest prey on other species except to feed.

Humans hunt them for fun and and can be needlessly cruel to them for pleasure and profit. Campaigns for animal rights are civilising.

It is easier to mock than to argue with them, because animal welfare is winning.