Whose Side Are You On?

Ugh. Animals are my favorite. I’ve always been drawn to them for a reason unknown to me. I love zoos because it gives me the opportunity to see them in real life and its opportunity I would never get otherwise so this was a hard research to do. To see what I have been supporting all these years, but here it is.

First, I would like to say that I have no patience for animal cruelty and the humans treat animals is disgusting to me. Animals end up being our slaves, our entertainment, just something to abuse or ignore. And I won’t deny the fact that I have supported the many institutions that use animals as entertainment. It is something I’ve felt uncomfortable with for a while, but they’ve created somewhat of an addiction for me that I selfishly wasn’t quite ready to part with. But enough is enough and I’m ready to have that one less thing that I can’t stand about myself. I think animals have the ultimate form of innocence even above babies. Animals only kill to survive whether for self-defense (even against humans) or to eat, that never changes. It’s the circle of life, it’s how they live and people should learn to accept that. Do I like that they do that? No, I hate death and it makes me sad no matter what it is, but what they have to do to survive and I understand that. They should be protected above all else. I don’t have problems with babies besides that they’re just annoying, it’s the people they grow into that bothers me.  They all grow up and they all turn into regular people. Some babies grow up to be Mother Teresas, some prison occupants, and most somewhere in between, but there are no perfect humans. We all destroy something in some way. The Earth was made for animals. The ecosystem has a way of keeping everything in balance so that the prey that is doing damage is kept down by another predator.  Anything bad that happens in the world can be linked back to some kind of human involvement. That fact weighs heavily on my mind. I can be extremely judgmental and overly critical when it comes to my opinions of human nature and its work. This especially shows up when I’m talking about the way humans treat animals. I know this and I know that very few people will ever agree with me, but that’s okay. I said all that to somewhat warn about some of the opinions I have and explain why I have them.

Second, I would like to say that the ‘they have every need provided for them. It’s the best life ever’ is an argument that is a load of lies. People need to realize that wild animals are strong, independent, resourceful, and smart. They can get what they need and the evidence is in the fact that they do it every day. The only dangers are usually other predators (which is part of the circle of life so people need to get over it) and humans. You link back any endangered species back to the involvement of humans and the selfishness that they possess. Whether it’s because people want their body parts like coats or ivory so they can flaunt their money or whether it’s because of global warming (I have done very little research about this, but last summer was enough evidence for me and the fact that in every endangered species I looked up, overheating was the reason so many were dying.)

There are believed to be 10,000 zoos worldwide, although accurate numbers are not kept. Conditions vary greatly, with the worst being nothing more than concrete prisons holding very distressed animals. The better zoos make an effort to re-create a natural environment, even though this is never completely possible.

Zoos are supposedly good for many reasons. Zoos attract thousands of visitors each year. They allow people to see animals that they would never get to see otherwise. Other than a safari or dangerous face-to-face (during which I highly doubt anyone really appreciates the encounter) people may never get to see these animals in real life besides at a zoo. A visit to the zoo is believed to educate and entertain people about wild animals. Many zoos have breeding programs to try to supposedly help endangered species. No one wants to see the panda or the tiger become extinct, and zoos offer hope for the future survival of these animals. Breeding programs are not cheap, and collecting admission fees from visitors is the best way to fund them. Researchers may also use zoos to study animal health, develop technology that can be used to track wild populations, advancing veterinary medicine and developing animal handling techniques.

Some other reasons people like zoos are because animals can be closely monitored in a zoo, where any illness, injury or infection can be treated by a vet. Wild animals don’t have this luxury. There is also no threat of starvation or predation in a well-run zoo. Animals in zoos could not be safer, and they have their every need met. But like I said before, this is a load of crap.

While the reasons above are pretty good, but for every idealistic reason people have to support them, there is evidence to suggest the contrary.

Zoos Are Not Natural

One, when people visit zoos, they are not seeing wild animals, but captive animals whose families still live in the wild. The environment is not natural. For example, cheetahs cannot run at full speed. Could you even imagine being able to run up to 70 mph and not even being able to run 15 because you’re so closed in. I somewhat like to run and if not run at least exercise, but if I imagine being stuck in car for more than 24 hours without that exercise then I start to get very antsy. I’m not even a fast runner or a vigorous exerciser, but I know I would go crazy if I never got to do it. To be wild, I’m sure it would be thousands of times worse.   Primates cannot gather fruit from high up in the forest canopy as they would in their real homes. I would think that pretty much everyone hates going to the store, but if it was as natural to you as driving or walking wouldn’t make you crazy not to be able to do it? The truth is that these animals’ natural habitats can never be re-created, no matter how hard a zoo tries. And many do not try hard at all.

Most animals housed in zoos are not endangered. In fact, in 2007, the Born Free Foundation researched the largest zoos with charitable status and found that less than 25 per cent of animals (species and subspecies) held in British zoos are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as threatened with extinction in the wild. It is likely that smaller or privately-owned zoos perform even worse in this respect.

Animals in zoos are not free to express their natural instincts, whether that means roaming hundreds of miles, breeding with the mate of their choice or killing their own prey. They are disturbed by spectators every minute of the day, and there is increasing evidence that this can have negative effects on them. Animals suffer many psychological problems because of their captivity and may display stereotypic behavior such as repetitive pacing, bar-licking, rocking and head-bobbing.

If zoos are such luxurious places for animals, with every danger spared them, why is the lifespan of captive elephants, for example, less than that of their wild counterparts? Frustration, boredom, loneliness and unnatural conditions all play a part in their misery and consequent premature death.

Zoos are businesses. They may buy, sell and breed animals. When they buy them, they are not always concerned about where they come from or the cruelty that they have endured along the way. When they transfer animals, it may be to another zoo with atrocious conditions, to an animal dealer, for taxidermy or to a laboratory where the animals will be experimented on.


And here are the facts to back-up my opinions.

1. Zoos are miserable places for animals
A CAPS film, No Place Like Home, looked at UK zoos and found many examples of poor conditions for animals.

In 2010, a CAPS undercover investigator filmed sick animals left untreated and dead animals to rot on floors at Tweddle Farm zoo. CAPS had to take rabbits to a vet to have infections treated and after our expose local police confiscated a monkey who had been kept alone and given cake and other junk food to eat. (How’s that for having every need provided for?)

Think safari parks are better than ‘traditional’ zoos? Woburn Safari Park was keeping its lions locked into small enclosures for 18 hours a day. A DEFRA zoo inspection report in 2010 said: “The animals were very crowded and there was no provision for individual feeding or sleeping areas. There was no visible environmental enrichment. Some of the lions exhibited skin wounds and multiple scars of various age, some fresh, some healed.”

A government-funded study of elephants in UK zoos found “there was a welfare concern for every elephant in the UK.” 75% of elephants were overweight and only 16% could walk normally, the remainder having various degrees of lameness. Less that 20% were totally free of foot problems. (M Harris et al. The welfare, housing and husbandry of elephants in UK zoos. University of Bristol, 2008)

2. Zoos can’t provide sufficient space
Zoos cannot provide the amount of space animals have in the wild. This is particularly the case for those species who roam larger distances in their natural habitat. Tigers and lions have around 18,000 times less space in zoos than they would in the wild. Polar bears have one million times less space. (Wide roaming animals fare worst in zoo enclosures. Guardian, 2.10.03)

3. Animals suffer in zoos
A government-funded study of elephants in UK zoos found that 54% of the elephants showed stereotypes (behavioral problems) during the daytime. One elephant observed during day and night stereotyped for 61% of a 24-hour period. (M Harris et al. The welfare, housing and husbandry of elephants in UK zoos. University of Bristol, 2008)

Lions in zoos spend 48% of their time pacing, a recognised sign of behavioural problems. (G Mason & R Clubb. Guest Editorial, International Zoo News, Vol 51, No 1 (2004))

4. Animals die prematurely in zoos
African elephants in the wild live more than three times as long as those kept in zoos. Even Asian elephants working in timber camps live longer than those born in zoos. (R Clubb et al. Compromised survivorship in zoo elephants. Science, Vol 322, 12.12.08)

40% of lion cubs die before one month of age. In the wild, only 30% of cubs are thought to die before they are six months old and at least a third of those deaths are due to factors which are absent in zoos, like predation. (G Mason & R Clubb. Guest Editorial. International Zoo News, Vol 51, No 1 (2004))

5. Surplus animals are killed
A CAPS study found that at least 7,500 animals – and possibly as many as 200,000 – in European zoos are ‘surplus’ at any one time. I just want to point out that this wouldn’t be happening if zoos released the animals in the wild like so many people think they do.

In 2010, zoo trade bodies rallied to the defense of a German zoo which was prosecuted for breaching animal welfare laws after it killed three tiger cubs because they were not pure-blooded (hybrid). (Code of Ethics & Animal Welfare. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, June 2010)

The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) said in 2007 that member zoos were being actively encouraged to kill unwanted animals, including tigers, if other zoos did not want them and if they were hybrids. It said that such animals take up space and keeper time. (Zoos kill healthy tigers for the skin trade. Sunday Times, 22.7.07l)

Animals are regularly ‘culled’ in UK zoos. In 2006 the whole pack of wolves at Highland Wildlife Park were killed after the social structure of the pack had broken down. In 2005 two wolf cubs and an adult female were shot dead at Dartmoor Wildlife Park. The vet reported: “Selective cull due to overcrowding and fighting in the pack” and “Further cull of cubs needed”. In 2001 a DEFRA zoo inspection of Dartmoor Wildlife Park in October 2001 found that “several significant dead animals” were stored in a food freezer “for taxidermy in the future”.

6. UK zoos are connected to animal circuses
CAPS exposed a UK zoo in 2009 that was a member of the trade body BIAZA (which supposedly upholds the highest standards) as having a breeding connection with a controversial animal circus. Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm had been breeding camels from the Great British Circus for several years and in 2009 obtained three tigers from the circus.

A female tiger at the zoo had three stillborn cubs and another who died at three weeks old. The mother also died.

7. Animals are trained to perform tricks
Many zoos train animals to perform tricks as if they were in a circus. Performing sea lions, birds and elephants can be seen at many UK zoos.

Some training of elephants has been done using electric goads. CAPS infiltrated a training session held at Blackpool Zoo in 1998 and filmed elephants being trained to lift their feet and head, hold sticks in their mouths and jabbed with elephant hooks in the shoulder and head.

In 2010 it was revealed that an elephant at Woburn Safari Park had previously been trained using an electric goad (Woburn admits it gave bull elephant electric shocks. Sunday Times, 27.6.10)

The movie ‘Water for Elephants’ pretty much ruined circuses for me. A small fraction of the reason for that was because Robert Pattinson was in it, but mostly because it showed how elephants were really treated. Water for Elephants was not a true story, but it was based on real life events. Not only that, but there has been video evidence released that shows how the animals were abused, in form of bull hooks and shock, in order to get them trained. Experts and animal activists claim that unless this abuse was used then the animals would not and could not be trained to do these kinds of tricks. Below is the link to the video evidence


8. Animals are still taken from the wild
In 2010, Zimbabwe planned to capture two of every mammal species found in Hwange National Park and send them to North Korean zoos. This included rhinos, lions, cheetahs, zebras and giraffes as well as two 18-month-old elephants. The plan was only stopped after international pressure by a coalition of organizations including CAPS.

A CAPS study found that 79% of all animals in UK aquariums were caught in the wild.

70% of elephants in European zoos were taken from the wild. [R Clubb and G Mason. ‘A Review of the Welfare of Zoo Elephants in Europe’, RSPCA, 2002].

In 2003 the UK government gave permission for the capture of 146 penguins from a British territory in the South Atlantic (Tristan da Cunha). Those who survived the seven-day boat journey from Tristan to a wildlife dealer in South Africa were sold to zoos in Asia (Taken by force. BBC Wildlife, February 2004).

9. Zoos don’t serve conservation
Zoos claim to breed animals for eventual release to the wild but breeding programs are primarily to ensure a captive population, not for reintroduction. Captivity does not count as wild. What is the point of having a population of anything if it isn’t natural?

Lions are a popular in zoos, but the vast majority “are ‘generic’ animals of hybrid or unknown subspecific status, and therefore of little or no value in conservation terms.” (Nicholas Gould, Editorial, International Zoo News, Vol 49, No 5 (2002)).

Zoo director David Hancocks said: “There is a commonly held misconception that zoos are not only saving wild animals from extinction but also reintroducing them to their wild habitats. The confusion stems from many sources, all of them zoo-based… In reality, most zoos have had no contact of any kind with any reintroduction program.” (Quoted in ‘Who Cares for Planet Earth?’ B Jordan, 2001)

Captive breeding is considered by some conservation scientists to be a diversion from the reasons for a species’ decline, giving “a false impression that a species is safe so that destruction of habitat and wild populations can proceed” (Snyder et al. Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery. Conservation Biology, Pages 338-348. Volume 10, No. 2, April 1996).

Zoos spend millions on keeping animals confined, while natural habitats are destroyed and animals killed as there is insufficient funding for protection. When London Zoo spent £5.3 million on a new gorilla enclosure, the chief consultant to the UN Great Ape Survival Project said he was uneasy at the mismatch between lavish spending at zoos and the scarcity of resources available for conserving threatened species in the wild. “Five million pounds for three gorillas when national parks are seeing that number killed every day for want of some Land Rovers and trained men and anti-poaching patrols. It must be very frustrating for the warden of a national park to see”.

I would feel differently if some of the zoos money make went to actually keeping the animals in the wild, but I couldn’t find any evidence of that. Zoos also justify themselves by saying that they educate. When I went to the zoo, I didn’t learn all that much. I learned some new names, but as far as education goes that was pretty much all. Which leads to my next point.

10. Zoos fail education
A CAPS study of UK aquariums found that 41% of the animals on display had no signs identifying their species – the most basic of information.

A US study found no compelling evidence for the claim that zoos and aquariums promote attitude change, education, or interest in conservation in visitors. The study authors urged zoos to stop citing a zoo-funded study which claimed an educational benefit from visits “as this conclusion is unwarranted and potentially misleading to consumers.” (L Morino et al. Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors? A Critical Evaluation of the American Zoo and Aquarium Study. Society and Animals 18 (2010) 126-138)


The good news is that the AZA tracks the conservation efforts of member zoos with biennial reports on conservation science. According to the most recent report, AZA members participated in or supported 1,400 field conservation projects worldwide, and over 300 projects in North America between 1999 and 2000.

  • Developing species-specific resource manuals and standards for animal care
  • Requiring AZA zoos and aquariums to develop and implement enrichment programs.
  • Training USDA-APHIS inspectors
  • Lobbying the government for more funding for APHIS
  • Reducing the number of surplus animals by giving “do not breed” recommendations
  • Developing a system to track animals and setting policies that forbid the transfer of animals to substandard facilities and hunting ranches

In my opinion there are only a few things that could justify the captivity of so many animals.

  1. The donation of at least 30% of funds donated to a group that works for conservation or the reintroduction of endangered species into the wild.
  2. If all the animals featured in zoos were being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild.
  3. If the only animals that were featured in zoos were actually endangered (which there is plenty and there are all unique enough to keep people’s attention) and the zoos were breeding them and releasing them into the wild and a responsible manner so that they would have a fighting chance.

I didn’t find too many options for being able to really help endangered species beyond those in our backyard and like those we find in zoos. One thing you can do if what I have said bothers you is to stop giving your money to these types of places. Companies won’t sell what people won’t buy. If you do decided to support one, make sure you do your homework which will be hard because so many companies are dishonest about what really goes on behind their electric fence. Donate money to conservation groups. You can check out 12 Ways to Help Animals In Our Own Backyard for lists of conservation groups and ways to get your concerns to people in leadership roles.

It’s pretty safe to say that my standards seem to be too high for many zoos and so many I saw during my research have false claims that I wouldn’t be comfortable trusting any. I’d rather be safe than sorry.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s