We are told a lot of things to justify keeping animals in captivity. But are these justifications based on fact, or are they simply what zoos would have us believe?
Zoos exist for conservation:
While some zoos may contribute in small ways to conservation projects, the vast majority of animal species in zoos are not on the endangered list, and the ones who are will likely never be rehabilitated to their natural habitat. A study conducted by Captive Animal Protection Society (CAPS) found that almost half of the animals in breeding programs in the EU were not even endangered in the wild.
The truth is that zoos exist primarily for profit. One of the biggest draw cards for zoos is baby animals. Babies will often be bred even when there isn’t enough room to keep them, inevitably resulting in “surplus” animals. Surplus management strategies are one of the best-kept secrets of modern zoos. In 2014, the world reacted with shock and outrage when a healthy two-year-old giraffe named Marius was killed and cut up in front of spectators at Copenhagen Zoo. His body was then fed to the lions.
Fact: Zoos exist for profit.
Zoos are the best way to learn about animals:
A zoo can teach you a lot about how animals behave in captivity but will teach you very little about the behavior of animals in the wild. Even though most modern zoos make efforts to offer animals a more natural environment, most captive animals are unable to live in a way that they would naturally and some may even be on medication to alter their behavior.
Perhaps those who visit zoos recognise this. A study of visitor behaviour at four zoos in the U.S. found that only six percent of visitors said they go to a zoo to learn more about animals, while 86 percent of visitors said they went to the zoo for “social or recreational purposes.”
Fact: The best way to learn about animals is in their natural habitat.
Zoos are a ‘normal’ part of society:
There is nothing natural about a penguin, giraffe or elephant living in the middle of an Australian city. We’ve come to accept this as part of normal society. It’s only when things go wrong that we’re reminded that a city zoo is no place for an animal.
Just this year, a flood in Georgia destroyed enclosures at the Tbilisi Zoo and saw dozens of zoo animals unleashed on the streets, including lions, bears, wolves and a hippo.
The flood in Tbilisi saw zoo enclosures destroyed and animals loosed onto the streets.
“Some 20 wolves, eight lions, white tigers, tigers, jackals, jaguars have either been shot dead by special forces or are missing.”
–Mzia Sharashidze, Tbilisi Zoo spokeswoman
Fact: There is nothing “normal” about zoos. Wild animals belong in the wild, not captive in cities.
Animals in zoos are happy:
Animals in captivity across the globe have been documented displaying signs of anxiety and depression. In fact, psychological distress in zoo animals is so common that it has its own name: Zoochosis.
Zoochosis can include rocking, swaying, excessively pacing back and forth, circling, twisting of the neck, self-mutilation, excessive grooming, biting, vomiting and copraphagia (consuming excrement).
These traits are largely uncommon amongst healthy and happy animals in the wild. When kept in captivity, animals are deprived of the ability to express their natural desires and the effect this can often have on their mental and emotional health is tragically clear in the form of zoochosis. Such behavior, when exhibited by confined or disturbed animals in other situations, is often referred to as “stereotypic” behavior and is recognised by scientists as a clear indicator of severe animal welfare issues.
FACT: Living in captivity has been found to lead some animals to neurosis and depression.