For most millennials, visiting a zoo was an integral part of childhood. But what happens behind closed doors? Why are zoos bad?
As the research on animals in captivity grows, so do the arguments for and against zoos. Here, we like to cover both sides to gain a better perspective of the topic. Let’s review all the zoo details to see what’s happening.
Arguments For and Against Zoos
We’ll take a look at both sides of the coin. But before diving into the most common arguments, let’s see how it all started.
Short History of Zoos
A zoo is a place where animals are displayed in captivity for humans to view. While there are many types of zoos, they all typically show a range of animals native to places worldwide.
But zoos didn’t always look like they do today. Hundreds of years ago, the wealthy collected animals and kept them as a private collection called a menagerie. The term “zoos and conservation” was non-existent.
Menageries date back to 2500 BCE. Egyptian wall carvings indicate that those in power also had a private animal collection.
Zoos as we know them entered the public space in the 18th century with the shift in religious thinking to a more scientific approach. The public sought out answers from animals and researched them in great detail.
In 1793, the first modern-day zoo opened in Paris, France. The Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes housed animals from all Parisian leaders after the French Revolution. The zoo is still open today in downtown Paris.
Should animals be kept in zoos? Few people in the 18th century asked this question or thought about animal housing regulations. But as society and zoos progressed, so did our ways of keeping zoos tidy and livable for animals.
There are exceptions where things have gone horribly wrong, but a lot has been done to improve the conditions. So let’s dive into the argument of whether zoos are truly bad and if they still serve a purpose in the modern world.
Reasons Why Zoos Are Good for Animals
Some zoo purposes go beyond human entertainment but do we still need them today? Let’s find answers.
1. Zoo Conservation Programmes
Conservation focuses on researching and breeding animals in captivity for the good of the animal population. That way, scientists monitor how animals behave up close to learn about their lives and needs, which is vital considering where we are as a planet.
Unfortunately, many animals are now endangered, mostly because of human activity. Conservation is one of the only ways to protect species and give future generations the chance to encounter them, even if it’s not in their natural habitats.
So, are all zoos bad? No, animal reintroduction can help dwindling populations escape near extinction. What’s more, we already have animals that are entirely extinct in the wild, with their last populations living in captivity. At the very least, conservation gives us a chance to save some species.
2. Education & Entertainment
We live in a world where education involves much more hands-on experience than ever. The internet has broadened kids’ minds globally, opening up a sea of learning opportunities. But before we explain why zoos are bad at educating, let’s see if we can gain anything from them.
Learning about the natural world through a screen does little to promote a genuine interest in animals. Zoos help children see what animals look and smell like. The observed behaviors spark the imagination of what these animals do in the wild.
Many kids don’t have the opportunity to see wild animals in their natural habitat. Without zoos, all that remains a distant idea seen in a textbook.
While there are a few problems with zoos, seeing the animals helps children understand different species. That can result in new ways of helping animals, which remains vital in a world relying on future generations to conserve the planet.
3. Scientific Research
We need scientific animal research to understand species needs further. That allows us to prepare and fix issues in their natural habitats. After all, animals losing their ecological home are reaching crisis levels, affecting the planet in unimaginable ways. Also, the ocean temperature has increased on average by one degree since the 1900s.
In 2019, the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) invested over $26 million to research more than 560 species. They looked at what percent of animals in zoos are endangered and what they could do to help.
Habitat conservation is vital to the future of humans, animals, and the planet.
Reasons Why Zoos Are Bad For Animals
Unfortunately, it’s not all good. Let’s have a look at the other side of the coin to see why zoos are bad.
4. Inadequate Care
Animals have specific habitat needs to survive. While most zoos try to keep that up to standard, it’s often impossible to meet all these needs.
So why are zoos bad for animals? One reason is inadequate care. While that includes food and shelter, the bigger issues are medical care and social needs.
It takes a serious amount of money to keep some animals in captivity and many facilities can’t afford it. Numerous reports and studies suggest that most zoos aren’t adequately prepared to give the animals what they need to survive.
Quality of life comes into play here, and zoos need to meet the minimum requirements.
5. Many Visitors Disturb and Disrespect the Animals
Zoo controversy is not a new thing. Unfortunately, many humans disturb animals in captivity simply because they don’t comprehend that the animals are wild. Even if they’re in captivity, that doesn’t mean that anyone has the right to hurt, disturb, or disrespect them. Wild animals have keen instincts, and their fear of humans grows exponentially after such encounters.
While that’s sad, it can also make for a severely dangerous situation. Scared animals lash out eventually and lead to horrible stories of zoos killing wild animals. And that’s a massive answer to why zoos are bad. Animals are in constant anxiety and can lose their lives trying to protect themselves against humans.
6. Zoos Force Animals to Perform Tricks
It’s not just a circus phenomenon. Zoos sometimes force animals to perform tricks to keep visitors coming back.
But wild animals aren’t meant for training. They’re not pets. Humans shouldn’t teach them to roar at a certain point or walk on hind legs. All these tricks are unnecessary and a selfish form of entertainment. So while circuses are bad, there are zoos bad for animals, too.
Coming into contact with wild animals is enough of a rare pleasure. There’s no need to force these creatures into training for our amusement. What’s more, it puts both animals and humans in dangerous situations.
7. The Danger of Animals Escaping
Whenever we bring wild animals into human-populated areas, we take a huge risk of them getting out and causing problems.
But trouble can come even if they don’t escape. For instance, 23 humans have died because of big captive cats between 1990–2021.
So are zoos cruel? Imagine someone stuck you in a cage for the rest of your life. How would you feel about that?
Pets are a different story, and we hope you don’t have wild animals running around at home. If you’re worried about your domesticated fur babies getting out and hurting themselves, you can look into a dog GPS tracker.
Why Animal Captivity Is Bad
Prepare to hear some horror stories.
8. Lack of Space & Freedom
Wild animals need space to thrive and survive. In captivity, one tiger has 18,000 times less space compared to its natural environment. These species are built for running, hunting, and being free. Their bodies don’t know what to do in captivity.
So why are zoos bad for animals, and what facts show us this? Animals in captivity can live longer because they don’t have to face natural threats during hunting. But captive animals die from diseases that are entirely preventable and never experienced in the wild.
9. Unnatural Habitat
While seeing live animals is fantastic, nothing beats seeing them in their natural habitat. But zoo environments are artificial and can create a stressful environment. Also, animals in captivity don’t know what to do with their surroundings. They resort to pacing and looking distressed.
Still wondering why are zoos bad? They don’t provide the physical, mental, and social stimulation animals need to live a full and productive life. A patch of grass and a wooden stand doesn’t make a big cat enclosure.
10. Solitary Confinement
You might not know this, but most animals aren’t solitary in the wild and need socialization. While you can easily find a reason why zoos are bad, this one truly tugs at our heartstrings.
Wild animals often travel in packs. While some animals group for mating purposes, many do it to fulfill a natural bond. It’s an instinct that zoos take away, causing much anxiety in the process.
Let’s take elephants as an example. Female matriarchs lead the herd, and other females follow. Take that away, and an elephant loses its purpose as part of the family structure. Most captive female elephants won’t survive in the wild alone. Elephants depend on each other.
11. Human & Animal Interactions
Common bad facts about zoos often miss this crucial point. Zoos are where the wild and humans come together, and it’s no secret that all species carry diseases. But what happens when diseases and infections mutate across species?
A good example is that 5%–6% of US elephants in captivity have TB. They can spread it to humans, and humans can infect them, too. Plus, domesticated animals can carry rabies, which can kill humans and other animals.
While vaccines are available, if you live in an open area, we can highly recommend a wireless dog fence to keep your pups in.
Overall, zoos are great, but we’ll never know the true extent of our health impact on these animals and vice versa.
Why Are Zoos Bad for Animals’ Health?
Possibly the biggest argument against zoos is how they affect animal health.
12. Drugging Animals to Keep Them Calm
Wild animals can suffer from Zoochosis, meaning they go mad because of their environment. It presents as pacing, drooling, shaking, looking distressed, and acting out aggressively.
So what did humans do? What we do best — we started prescribing them medication for anxiety and depression, so they could keep up appearances.
It’s a sad state of affairs to think of these helpless creatures, reaching out to show their pain and anxiety, and all we can do to help is give them medication to “calm down.”
13. Animals Cruelty in Zoos
It’s a horrendous fact that many handlers mistreat animals out of frustration.
The limited space in enclosures affects the physical wellbeing of all zoo animals. Their bodies aren’t made for such life, so they get serious injuries, deformations, and infections.
More direct mistreatment of animals in zoos also comes into play. Do you know what a bullhook is? It’s a long pole with a sharp tip for piercing elephant skin. They use it for training or in cases where the animal gets unruly. Hitting and shouting are also common in the animal workforce.
14. Zoo Euthanasia Practices
What happens to an animal once it serves its purpose? Some animals are sold, while others are killed out of sympathy. We don’t know which one sounds better, but we have a feeling it might be the latter.
While some zoos employ vets and provide medical care, that takes money and resources most places can’t afford.
Also, zoos can legally kill animals if they don’t have a suitable area for the species. So we take animals out of their habitat and kill them when we don’t have where to put them. How fair does that sound?
Better Zoo Alternatives
We’ve seen why zoos are good and bad. But do we really need them? After all, there are other ways to get to know animals without keeping them in enclosures.
Instead, you can:
- Watch documentaries
- Check videos online
- Go see animals in their natural habitat
- Walk on the beach near a tidal pool
- Birdwatch from home or go on a tour
- Go on an eco vacation
These are only a few practical examples that involve cages. But what can you do to help zoo animals?
What You Can Do to Help
Well, the number one way you can help is obvious — stop visiting zoos. Apart from that, you can also:
- Start a debate asking, “Should animals be kept in zoos?”
- Share the information above with friends and family.
- Educate the people around you, including leaders in your community.
- Donate to initiatives like Wildlife Conservation Society.
Don’t lose hope. Animal rights is a hot topic right now, and a lot is changing.
You’ll likely hear about the pros and cons of zoos for many years to come. Still, spreading awareness is vital. It can help people make their own decisions about supporting this form of human entertainment.
So why are zoos bad? In the end, no matter how hard they try, they simply can’t provide the same conditions as a natural habitat.