To many people, a trip to the zoo is a fun day out for the family. Visiting a zoo is a chance for many people to see exotic animals they would otherwise be unable to see.
However, few people stop and actively consider why zoos are bad.
In this article, we will take a look at why zoos teach children the wrong lesson about captive animals.
As a late Gen-Xer-cum-early-Millenial, my childhood was rich with trips to visit zoos. However, looking back as an adult with a world-savvy eye, there is far more to animal captivity than meets the eye.
So Why are Zoos Bad?
While zoos can definitely be exciting places for families to visit, the fact remains that they are bad for animals. In most cases, animals in zoos lead very unhappy lives.
We say zoos are bad because animals are forced to live in unnatural, stressful, boring environments, leading to a lack of mental and physical stimulation. They are removed from their natural habitats and confined to small limited spaces and often forced to perform tricks or entertain visitors.
Zookeepers also often may neglect their healthcare needs. As a result, many animals at zoos may die prematurely from stress or illness.
You can surely help these animals by refusing to visit zoos and instead supporting sanctuaries where animals live in natural habitats.
What Are the Negative Effects of Zoos on Animals?
There are a great many negative effects of zoos on animals.When we visit zoos, we can see they often go to great lengths in order to recreate the animals’ natural habitats.
However, this is often not much more than an illusion for the customer. A small exhibit is never going to truly capture the vastness of the open world.
The common negative effects of zoos on animals are listed below.
- Animals often suffer in captivity
- Animals are removed from their natural habitats.
- Many zoos fail to provide the required minimum standard of care
- Healthy animals are killed
- Zoos don’t replicate animals’ natural habitats
- Zoos teach children the wrong lessons
- Zoos teach people that animal captivity is acceptable
- Animal protection laws are not strong enough
- Zoos are largely unethical
- Many visitors disturb and disrespect the animals
- Zoo animals are often drugged to be kept calm
- Euthanasia practices
- Zoos often have insufficient knowledge of animals.
- Increased risk of disease
- Zoos contribute to the exotic pet trade
What’s Bad About Zoos Overall?
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of why keeping animals in zoos is bad:
Animals Often Suffer in Captivity
Wild animals often suffer in captivity because they were meant to be free. Zoo owners go to great lengths to build enclosures that have a wild aesthetic and give paying visitors a taste of the wild world.
However, the truth is that no enclosure can come close to matching the vastness of an animal’s natural environment. Animals in zoos can sense this, and over time their confinement can lead to worrying behavioral changes.
Animals Are Removed From Their Natural Habitats
Many zoo animals are forcefully removed from their natural habitat. This relocation alone can come as a large shock and wreak havoc on the animals’ mental health. For some animals in zoos, the shock of their relocation alone can be fatal.
In addition, when animals are removed from their natural habitats, they are also removed from their family structure and social hierarchy. For many wild animals, this is a vital part of their life, and they can struggle to redefine their footing.
Once again, a change of this magnitude can cause captive animals to exhibit changing behaviors, which include self-destructive acts and unrelenting restlessness.
Many Zoos Fail To Provide the Required Minimum Standard of Care
The required standard of care for wild animals, such as those held by zoos, is wide-ranging and nigh on impossible for zoos to provide.
Outside of providing sufficient space to allow natural behaviors to develop, issues such as climate, diet, and the formation of a social hierarchy – where appropriate – make running a zoo a difficult task.
Even the best zoological park cannot fully capture the wild, and many smaller zoos fail to take effective measures to ensure the health and well-being of their animals.
A study by Bristol University found that many British zoos fail to provide animals with the required minimum standard of care.
Healthy Animals Are Killed
Running a successful zoo is about drawing in visitors as much as it is caring for animals. As a result, many zoos breed animals. Unfortunately, this is done under the guise of conservation and to protect endangered species.
However, only a certain number of each species are really needed, and so should breeding result in a sharp increase, these numbers are reduced via various methods.
Healthy animals in zoos are killed because they are not needed. In addition, baby animals that are deemed excess to requirements find their way into black market sales. This support of the exotic pet trade also results in a lot of preventable animal deaths.
Zoos Don’t Replicate Animals’ Natural Habitats
Many zoos create attractive enclosures to attract visitors. However, the vast majority don’t do enough to accurately replace an animal’s natural habitat. There is more to natural environments than just looks.
Most zoos or animal sanctuaries don’t have the space or the facilities to truly recreate the wild. Especially not for the broad spectrum of species they have in their park.
Animals need physical stimulation and a level of interaction with nature that we, as humans, cannot understand, let alone interpret and recreate.
Zoos Teach Children the Wrong Lessons
Many zoos give children the wrong lessons about wild animals and how to protect animals. Many zoos and aquariums offer behind-the-scenes tours and informative talks on animal welfare.
These tours often pretend to talk about their animals’ natural habitat and inclinations. However, they are really just teaching children about caring for animals in captivity.
Children leave most zoos with a misconception about how animals behave in the wild and what it takes to truly care for endangered animals.
Zoos Teach People That Animal Captivity Is Acceptable
In normalizing captivity zoos, and teaching animals to perform tricks for human entertainment, zoos and animal sanctuaries are spreading the message that animal captivity to normal, healthy, and fully acceptable.
The truth is there is a vast difference between genuine conservation efforts and endangered species protection and running a zoo. Many zoos claim to be helping preserve dwindling populations.
This may be true to some extent; however, many zoos are running breeding programs for their own benefit and have no interest in releasing their animals back into the wild.
Animal Protection Laws Are Not Strong Enough
Existing animal protection laws do not actually consider the true ramifications of captivity. Many animals in zoos are not used to confinement. Their natural habitat extends far beyond anything captivity zoos could provide.
For example, Orcas are migratory animals with a vast range. Being placed into a small tank, away from their family units, might not break existing animal protection laws.
The same applies to elephants. In zoos, elephants are often given a small outside enclosure and an internal ‘house.’ This is nowhere near enough space to provide an elephant with a life comparable to that of its wild counterparts.
However, that does not stop the silent damage that captivity delivers to such roaming animal species.
Zoos Are Largely Unethical
At the end of the day, Zoos are largely unethical places that are built under the pretense of habitat conservation but really are there to earn money and entertain people who want to be able to say they saw real-life wild animals.
The truth is that zoos are a prison for animals. They are contained in small spaces, often made docile through drugs and other medications, and slowly strip away all autonomy and freedom from all animals.
Most animals are taught to perform tricks and go against the grain of nature purely for human entertainment.
Zoos often do more harm than good, creating unnatural environments that look realistic enough to make any potential return to the wild all but impossible.
Many Visitors Disturb and Disrespect the Animals
Many visitors will disturb and disrespect the animals in a zoo simply because they feel as though they are owed a performance of some sort. They bought tickets, and the wild creatures should behave accordingly.
When in their natural environments, wild animals are not used to being confronted by humans. However, in a zoo, the boundaries between the wild and captivity are rearranged.
Visitors will hammer on the glass or clamor around an animal enclosure, calling and shouting for the creature to perform for their pleasure.
Zoo Animals Are Often Drugged To Be Kept Calm
Animals in captivity can struggle to adapt to their new environment. Animals begin to display erratic behaviors, self-mutilation, and an inability to settle.
Many zoos will then resort to drugging animals in order to keep them docile and ‘normal’ for the pleasure of the viewing public. Drugs given to animals include sedatives and antipsychotic drugs.
An animal’s worth is only equal to the attraction it offers to visitors. Zoos are expensive to run, often have a very tight budget, and cannot afford to maintain and support animals that do not ‘pull their weight’ in terms of attraction.
Once an animal has served its purpose, many zoos will either sell them or euthanize them.
Zoos also have the power to euthanize their animals when they themselves deem it permissible.
If an animal cannot be given sufficient space or is suffering from stress and not behaving as expected, the zoo is within its right to kill the animal(s).
Zoos Often Have Insufficient Knowledge of Animals
Zoo keepers are often trained and specialize in a particular breed or species. However, the truth remains that zoos often have insufficient knowledge of the animals they are housing.
It is not possible to have zookeepers versed in a detailed understanding of every single species.
Instead, they will hire generalists with a degree of knowledge specificity and run with that. This goes to the detriment of the animals in zoos and puts them at risk of receiving inadequate care.
Increased Risk of Disease
Zoos are home to many animals. Non-native animals are held in conditions that vary greatly from what they are used to living in. This alone increases the risk of disease, as animals are exposed to viruses they have never encountered before.
When factoring in the number of zoos breeding animals and the risk posed to baby animals, the change of disease skyrockets further.
There have also been reported cases of zoos not properly disposing of dead bodies when animals die on their premises. Some surplus animals or injured animals are even fed to predators as a means of life-cycle maintenance.
There is no end to the risk of cross-contamination and disease spread, especially when considering the fact that lots of zoos fail to provide the correct standard of care.
Zoos Contribute to the Exotic Pet Trade
When zoos find themselves with surplus animals, they need to find ways to reduce their numbers. One way that is rarely documented is the sale of other animals into the exotic pet trade.
Private individuals with the financial means use their money to procure rare or exotic animals from zoos to add to their own private collections. The sale of excess animals to traveling roadside zoos is another big problem.
What Are the Better Alternatives to Zoos?
The better alternatives to zoos are the options that don’t result in animals being held in conditions that are unsuitable and forced to live in natural environments.
Most people visit the zoo to see the big draw animals. Elephants, lions, tigers, rhinos, and such. All of these animals are well studied and have a plethora of documentaries and video footage of them in the wild.
Watching these is a much healthier and more educational way to learn about wild animals than visiting a local zoo.
In addition, a costlier but more educational option is to make arrangements to view animals in the wild. Nature reserves, bird watching, going on a safari. All of these options afford you a close view of nature exactly as it was intended.
We’ve discussed the reasons and can surely all now answer the question of why are zoos bad. The real question is, how can we change things?
Zoos are a part of culture across the world. If you go on holiday to any major destination, the chances are high that there will be at least one zoo and/or one aquarium nearby.
Personally speaking, I’ve been to zoos in Sydney, Australia, and all over the UK. I’ve been to zoos and aquariums in Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island, not to mention those in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
However, it does not change the fundamental fact that as the world changes, we must also become more aware of the darker side of such animal sanctuaries.
Will we ever see all zoos closed down? No, most likely not. However, through education and informative motions for change, we can make change the way zoos are run.