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The Reality of Zoos

The following article was written by Michelle Carr.

Confused Animal Lover from St. Louis writes, “I’m a huge animal lover, and I understand why the circus is bad for animals, but what about zoos?”

Great question! Many people aren’t aware of the cruelty behind zoos, so it’s good that you’re thinking about animals used for entertainment. When I was a kid, I went to the zoo all the time with my family. I loved pandas as a kid (still do!), and I thought being able to see them in person would be neat. But once I saw them “up close and personal,” I realized that the animals were miserable. It instantly became very clear to me that the animals imprisoned in zoos are sad and don’t want to be kept in artificial environments, have people gawk at them, listen to children who bang on the windows of their enclosures, or have cameras flashing in their faces. To put it simply, zoos are imprisoning animals who want to be free.

Captive animals are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them, and as a result, they become bored and lonely and many even suffer from a condition called “zoochosis.” If you’ve ever witnessed a captive animal rock and sway back and forth, you’ve seen the disease firsthand. This condition is so rampant in zoos that some zoos give animals a mood-altering drug, such as Prozac, because the public has started to catch on.

Some animals are so unhappy that they risk their lives in desperate attempts to free themselves. At the Dallas Zoo, a gorilla named Jabari tried to escape by jumping over the walls and moats of his enclosure, only to be fatally shot by police. A witness later confessed that teenagers were taunting him by throwing rocks.

Animals are unable to thrive in small enclosures, especially with unnatural weather and climates. For example, elephants typically walk up to 30 miles in just one day, but Lucy,  the lone elephant at the Edmonton Zoo, is locked inside a barn when the zoo is closed and during Edmonton’s frigid winter months, which means she spends most of her time indoors, without much room to move. The near-constant confinement because of the harsh weather has caused Lucy to develop painful arthritis.

In reality, most people only spend a few seconds at each display, waiting for the animals to do something “exciting,” but they gain little, if any, true understanding of the animals. In addition, captive animals don’t get to choose their mates, and they are sometimes artificially inseminated so that their babies can be sold or traded to other zoos. This often results in miscarriages, death at birth, or the mother’s rejection of her young. The Chinese government “rents” pandas to zoos worldwide for fees of more than $1 million per year!

Traveling and roadside zoos are even crueler. Animals are often kept in barren cages, such as concrete pens, and in stressful environments, with nothing more than an old tire or a log to stimulate their minds and enrich their lives. People have also been sickened—and some have died—after contracting diseases from animals in petting zoos.

Instead of going to the zoo, you can learn about animals by watching nature documentaries or observing the animals in their own natural habitats instead. Now that I know the reality behind zoos, I don’t go to the zoo, and I encourage my friends and family to boycott them as well. I love animals, and I want to see them free, not held captive behind bars!

What animal-free activities do you enjoy? Leave a comment and let us know!

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  • Joce says:

    Zoos may look good from the outside but animals get little to no enrichment. I am doing a school project on zoos and they barely give their animals 1/4 of the space they would normally roam in the wild. and i got that information from a zoos website. and for the record, jurassic park is a movie, it is not real

  • Bubbles says:

    Zoos also do NOT keep their animals behind bars!!!!!!

  • Bubbles says:

    STOP BASHING ZOOS!!! They take EXCELLENT care of their animals!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • fawzi says:

    so true

  • M Everett says:

    there is no “wild” for the animals. People have encroached on every spare bit of landscape. Release all of these animals and um, have you ever seen Jurassic Park? Zoos are not cruel, people are.

  • Kristine says:

    There is always going to be a place for zoos. Many zoos have breeding and reintroduction programs for endangered animals. Actually many animals born in zoos make it back into the wild. Zoos also care for a lot of animals that wouldn’t make it in the wild – either temporarily or permanently. These animals may have been injured and in need of medical attention, their home habit may have been destroyed, or they may be dangerous animals that have gotten too used to people as a result of people observing them in their natural habitat. For most of these animals, if a zoo can’t take them, they are “disposed off.” I don’t believe that every zoo is perfect, in fact, no zoo is, but many of them really do care about the animals in their care and they have a positive mission. I think if it was just about money you would never hear stories about the animals from the zoo keepers, who not only name the animals, but morn when they are lost. These issues are not as black and white as this article would have them seem.

  • jess says:

    i agree wit al of u! this is so tru. i m doin this assignment in school n i disagree wit anyone who wants zoos 2 stay, and i hve reasons!!

  • Lauren Joan says:

    No matter what zoos say there not the same as the wild and never will be. I hope all the zoo owners are happy they’er wasteing and animals life for they’re lexis cars and such.

  • lamiha says:

    i agree this is so true i mean first of all animals are treated incorrectly and people dont care at school we are writing about this and all of this is true i always go to this website it really wants me to start helping thanks and i love pandas to

  • Jesus says:

    I agree with the comments that say that some zoos just want to help. It is true that in nearly all the zoos before the 20th century were just made up of iron bars and filled with the “most interesting” animals that people would be intrigued to come up-close with, but really after people started to discover that nature was not this everlasting thing that could be freely exploited, conservation efforts took place. Intensive breeding programs are being applied to critically endangered species today in many large zoos, and as soon as the next group of animals seem fit for the wild, most of the time they are released into the wild for re-population.

    In addition, as long as the conditions meet the standards of the animals’ natural environment, animals would be happy in their enclosures–it is known for a fact that most animals in captivity live longer than their counterparts in the wild; this is due to several reasons, among them lesser stress, little to no competition for resources, direct medical and health care, and an ample supply of a proper diet.

    We can’t do anything about zoos that only care about money, but we can surely help and support those zoos that actually want to make a difference and IMPROVE the quality of life for the animals.

  • Amy says:

    no mater how good a zoo may seem they will never be as spacious as the wild

  • Caroline F. says:

    Zoos help with Endangered Species because they can take any Endangered Species (Male and Female) and breed them together and make that species not on the brink of extinction anymore. So I’m sorry for thinking that most zoos are good but some zoos really care about how healthy and happy their animals are but some zoos, like the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, really care. But some zoos are just greedy and don’t really care about their animals and they just care about the money and the publicity. People are really trying to help, not just for the animals but for the satisfaction it brings with it.

  • jessica says:

    I think Zoos can Be bad/good but mainley disturbing to animals the bad things about zoos is that keeping them in zoos means that they only have access to a limited of space in their enclosures.

  • Jill says:

    Ok so we’re all on this page because we feel it is wrong to have zoos…you’ve worked us up by pointing out the obvious..that these creatures are miserable because of what us humans are doing…and then you leave us with nothing!! I want to know what can we do? I want to do something! We need to know how to work towards making zoos a thing of the past…why haven’t you given us information on that???

  • Lee says:

    I used to take my daughter to near by zoos up untill she was 8yrs old, the last zoo we visited she came home crying asking me why the some of the animals looked sad and it opened my eyes, i went back to the same zoo & could she what she ment & it put a lump in my throat, now when ever i think of a zoo i imagine some poor animal looking at me as if to say what have i done… I think zoos are an out dated victorian idea, at most any captive animal should be in a safari enviroment. The question is what can we do to change it.

  • Sky says:

    I can’t agree with this post either. You can’t just give all zoo’s a bad name. Some honestly want their animals to be happy and want to create a living space that is as much like the wild as they can. Also, zoo’s help endangered animals from being killed off. I would rather see tigers in a zoo then to see them cease to exist. This is just my opinion though.

  • Monica says:

    I agree that zoos are like prison for animals. They can’t just put animals in cages because they’re cute. There are cute people too, but they are not locked to entertain other people. I also agree that there are zoos that really care. But isn’t it better to keep the animals in fenced fealds than behind bars? I believe that people should care about the animals a lot more, because they are not much different from us.

  • Catherine says:

    I want to thank you for letting us know the dark side of the zoos. The only thing I know about zoos is that they are a fun place to go and see cute animals. I have never thought about what living in a zoo is like. Is it like some kind of jail for the animals? Some say that it is unfair to hold animals in captivity just for the entertainment of humans. These animals are imprisoned in a limited space instead of living in their natural habitats. Sometimes, people gawk at them and bang on the windows, expecting them to do something that we think is exciting. Their lives in the zoos seem somehow miserable. But for some reason, zoos help prevent animal extinction. Some animals, like polar bears, are decreasing due to the change of weather and habitats. Zoos can provide them a home and food to ensure that they survive. However, what we can do for animals is to provide them a better environment to live. More importantly, we have to learn to respect animals.

  • niki says:

    Lucy is in Edmonton AB.
    Just in general: zoos exist because people are greedy and ignorant..intead of protecting wildlife, zoos give us an excuse to ignore the dire situtation..oh we have them in a zoo so if they go extinct in the wild well its not so bad..its just avoiding the real issues there are.

  • letate says:

    I’m a passionate animal lover but, I must say, your article is prejudiced, unbalanced and, in some instances, inaccurate. I suppose it’s an opinion piece, which is fine, but it’s not a factual piece. Accredited zoos do not remove babies from their mothers until they are grown up and would naturally leave their mothers. They do not artificially inseminate animals. Yes, the Species Survival Plan (SSP) does decide which individuals of critically endangered species will mate with other individuals, to ensure a good gene pool – for the protection and survival of the species. Again, individuals are only moved from one zoo to another if it would be natural for that species to do so, e.g. gorillas when grow into adulthood. Zoos are necessary for the continuation of endangered species which, if they were to only exist in the wild, soon would not exist at all.

  • adorkable14 says:

    I’m sorry; I can’t say I agree with this post. This kind of of generic post is the reason I often consider no longer following PETA. Zoos are obviously not the best case scenario for an animal, but they are much father from the worst in the vast majority of situations. I live outside of Toronto, ON and I agree that our elephants deserve to be moved, they can’t take the harsh winter climate and our exhibit is FAR too small to the point it is cutting their life expectancy down by at least a third. This is unacceptable; I also agree that poor lonely Lucy in Calgary, AB NEEDS a new home where she can socialize like a normal elephant. I also agree that places like Sea World should be shut down because to have an Orca or Dolphin that communicates, moves and basically lives by echolocation and travels miles a day in the wild should not be confined to a chlorine filled tank where proper communication is virtually impossible and to have its life expectancy cut in half is insanely cruel and not worth it. But honestly, to boycott all zoos is unreasonable. We as animal lovers need to do much research before we go to a “zoo” as we possibly can. We need to make sure they are accredited by the AZA and we need to be sure that they treat all the animals with respect and dignity. Also we can press our local governments to maintain a high standard of living for these wild creatures in captivity. Of course I don’t want to go somewhere with animals in small concrete cages (please research Jambbas Ranch in Fayetteville, North Carolina for an example of an unfit “zoo”), but if they are given a large enclosure with some kind of climate control to mimic their wildlife and surrounds that closely mimic their wildlife then I just don’t see it as a problem. Zoos are a great place where children and families can come to discover the true wonder of wild animals. Some families would never be able to afford to travel to Africa to see a Zebra or a Giraffe or Asia to see a Panda. Also thinking of Tigers or Gorillas that are seriously endangered and vulnerable to the threat of poaching and deforestation in the wild, to have many spread all over the world in zoos where they are taken care of is great to know that these species will be on our planet for generations to come. It gives us the opportunity to control the populations and be sure they have a fighting chance at survival. They are also giving us a great chance to raise awareness about animal cruelty issues going on all around the world. I mean really, let’s look at the bigger picture and focus on the real animal tragedies happening all over the world ie; Poaching, Shark Finning, Factory Farming, Dolphin Hunting, Whale Hunting/Fishing, Bear Bile Extraction, Fur Farms, etc. The list goes on and on here people; we have bigger issues at hand then Zoo’s. Sorry for the rant…lol.

  • PATRICIA F. says:

    I too hate animals for display but Bronx Zoo is dedicated to sems dedicated to giving animals a healthy and enjoyable alternative to livingfree. They do not have bodies mutilated for their horns or starve due to the abuse of our world. Think of the Bisons, brought back from threat of extinsion. Zoos are not perfect but humons are trying a little bit!

  • Samantha flores says:

    If people want to see wild animals, they should go to them instead of having the animals come to them and locked up.

  • Jason says:

    Generally Zoo’s are a bad place on animals and focused on making Cash. We should get rid of the Zoo’s and have Animal sanctuaries that focus on creating a happy, healthy and safe space for these animals! We have displaced them from their homes and paved over their forests, its the least we can do and it the RIGHT thing to do.

  • Pamela Kaczynski says:

    I am against zoos also. I live in Pittsburgh and I am an Elephant Lover and I know they do well with their Elephants (compared to the treatment of circus Elephants)I dont know if my comment is going to go through because we cannot afford a website right now. I have alot more to say but I am going to put this through first to see if my comment goes through

  • chander kumar soni says:

    i hate zoos.

  • EllieN says:

    I do agree that some zoos are bad.. some just simple do it for the money. But others really do care. If an animal is indangered and in a good zoo I belive it is okay.

  • sherry says:

    What is the glory of avoiding extinction if the animals have to live a life of imprisonment and loneliness.

  • Yvonne Imperiale says:

    I felt so sad for the beautiful wild animals in small cages in the zoo my mother took me to as a child and refused to ever go again. Animals should be seen in their wild habitat. I’ve been on a couple of African photo safaris in Tanzania and Zimbabwe in the bush where we saw them that way from the distance with binoculars. A few times we were up close in our little open jeep. Wonderful experience. But zoos and circuses are hell for animals and a disgusting idea.

  • silverstreak says:

    Sometimes I think the human race should just disappear so that mother Earth and all the animals don’t have to suffer. Our very existence is like a plague, or a virus, quoting from Agent Smith from the Matrix.

  • Coffeehousesessions says:

    It all depends on the Zoo I would say. If you don’t want to see something like described then don’t go to Bristol Zoo (UK) but Australia Zoo does the best it possibly can for the animals in it and breeds for conservation. Like I said, it all depends on the zoo so be careful you don’t generalise zoos that do treat their animals well and discourage donations.

  • Dexter says:

    I think that’s all good if we lived in a perfect world but we don’t and they are not ok in the wild because of poachers and people who kill them for trophy’s.
    This world is unkind and animals we need to protect because they are innocent.
    Our zoo’s should definitly give more stimulase for the animals, give their habitat’s the fullfillment as close to their natural environment as possible.

  • Tatjana Roos says:

    I understand that it is completely unfair to hold an animal in captivity just for the fun of humans, but what if they do it to ensure the species future? Some animals are kept in captivity so that they wont end up being extinct, for instance the tiger? So in some wat some zoos are ok, aren’t they? I mean, it isn’t all zoos that give the animals horrible conditions either, we have a wildlife park here in Denmark, the animals are free in a large territory, and then in the summer people can drive through like a saffari, but the animals can be where they want to be, maybe they wont even be near the road, I mean that is ok, isn’t it? I am against zoos too, but I still think that some zoos are ok, depending on the animals they have and the space they have to be in and only if it is because of the species survival, otherwise I hate it, never go to circus or dolphin shows or anything like that, not even in zoos other than the one I just mentioned.

  • Uzair Sattar says:

    I thoroughly agree with you and feel it is hell on earth for most animals. Although you have given the public the facts, I would like you to carry out an investigation on the Bahria Town Zoo in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The standards off living are far better then the average you tend to find here in Pakistan. Under my recomandation, please try to undergo thee investigation.
    Thank You

  • Carrie says:

    Harm to animals is NEVER appropriate nor ‘acceptable’. The MORALITY of any society is determined by how the weakest members are treated.

  • Claudette Babineau says:

    I would like to them in a place in which colonies can settle .. to see baby elephants run in and out and around their mothers legs and run away in frivolous flight … i would to baby monkeys stubble over branches and getting up and giving their heads a shake … i would like to see baby lions and tigers jumping and pulling on mamas tail while their mother is lying there relaxing …

  • Bernice says:

    zoos may be bad for animals but there are also good things about zoos, they help with extinction. Zoos are helping fight the extinction of many animals like polar bears and pandas!Since the weather is changing and lack of food a lot of wild animals are dying.

  • Shelia says:

    Im sure those animals enjoyed being taken out of their environment and put in cages so people could look at them all day. Huh maybe they should put a human in one. Were all animals u know….

  • Liz says:

    What are your views on Zoo’s breeding animals to release back in to the wild to ensure the species survives? I know my local zoo has done this on a few occasions (Regent Honey Eaters, Corroboree Frogs) and without Zoo’s in Australia breeding Tasmanian Devils, they are likely to become extinct in the wild due to the facial cancer that is decimating them. I do agree with what you say about enclosures and how un-natural it is for the animals. I have seen a conservation side as well so I am just curious about your views on that side of things.

  • SUSANNA says:

    WE SHOULD PROVIDE SAFE, LOVING SANCTUARIES TO ANIMALS WHERE THEY CAN ROAM FREE!

  • AnimalActivist says:

    I once went to a rather large zoo near me, and a gorilla seemed to have enough. He jumped off of a giant rock and banged into the glass. I also saw a polar bear try to drown himself. Sad things that happen to animals these days..

  • kauaiamandy says:

    I am on the fence about zoos. In a perfect world, there would be enough space and food for all wild animals to thrive,bears would have enough food, tigers and lions would not be hunted down by poachers etc etc. I have visited several zoos in the USA and for the most part the animals seemed well cared for and fairly happy. I know we want everyone to live freely but the world humans have created have made it impossible. At least in a zoo they have some freedom, bette
    r than being in a circus where they are often beaten and made to perform!

  • Anne Louise says:

    I love being out with my husband and son, hé is 2 years old and just enjoy our garden. We are looking at worms, beetles and the Sound of All the birds around us! In their natural habitat!

  • karen allen says:

    I use to think it was safer for animals to be kept in zoos rather than in the wild sometimes…cause i thought somehow they would be safe from poaching…neva thought how distressed they could be in zoos…but yes mkes sense that they suffer…but wheres the answer lie.?…ones that hve been in captivity for years…if u released them..where would u put them to give them a better quality of life…

  • Tiffany says:

    It is heart crushing reading how cruelly animals are being treated in zoos, purely for human entertainment. I would rather see animals in their natural habitat or watch a documentary.

  • Connie French says:

    I have disliked zoos since I was about 10 when I was old enough to see animals so unhappy and lonely looking. If I could see that at 10 why can’t adults see it?

  • Hannnele Kuosmanen says:

    All activitets that are not including anything that makes animals feel bad -is a good activity !!Zoo and Circus is discusting and should be shut down YESTERDAY !!

  • CEXAVICE says:

    Hi, Id like to know youre opinion on the following. I dont like zoos either, but what about the animals that are found in the wild and would have other wise died if they were not taken in? Or what about people that have them as pets and are discovered so the zoos take them in?

    I would think that would be a better alternative? is it not?

  • Perezt says:

    Awesome and educating article! I just went to my local zoo for the first time in YEARS this past weekend, and I brought along PETA’s zoo checklist. You don’t have to be a scientist or an animal behavorist to realize that all the animals that you see are unhappy. Thank you for also putting the part about if you want to see how animals really are. I don’t think a lot of people think of the alternatives.

  • Javier says:

    Los zoológicos son cárceles de animales nobles e indefensos

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