Skip to Content

12 Reasons Why Animals Should Not Be Kept in Zoos

Taking your family for a day out at the zoo has been a sort of tradition for a very long time and given recent statics the number of visitors is growing.

There are currently 421 zoological gardens and aquariums and a 2.9% business growth this year despite the pandemic. In the past five years, the number of zoos has been gradually going up. But is there a reason why animals should not be kept in zoos? Keep on reading.

What is a Zoo?

Deer's in Captivity

A zoological park is defined as an establishment designed for conservation, study, and public display. The first modern one was opened in Paris, France in 1793. Older menageries existed as far back as 2500 BCE, in Mesopotamia.

The idea of conserving animals that are at risk of going extinct is a great one; the problem is that not most zoos live up to it. Most zoos don’t focus on the educational aspect of zoos; the animals are mainly kept for amusement.

See Related: Animals That Start With V

What are some benefits of having zoos?

Animals have been going extinct for as long as there has been life on earth–any weakling or disadvantageous animals get wiped out.

Zoological gardens have been working to help ensure that any endangered species are given another chance to thrive again over time.

Caring for the said animals, away from their predator will give their species a chance of repopulating. Unlike in the wild where these endangered species have to worry about staying safe, in these breeding programs they get taken care of.

Students and the general public get a chance to learn about different species of animals. This can lead to an appreciation of animals, which in return will see them being treated much better.

They are used to collect exotic pets from owners who are looking to get rid of them. This gives the poor pets a home and creates a revenue stream for the zoos.

See Related: Animals With the Best Sense of Smell

Reasons why staying in the zoo isn’t all glamorous for the animals

Most people aren’t always comfortable seeing animals that are kept in zoos. This is due to the inhumane conditions that these animals are forced to endure. Below are a dozen reasons why zoos can be bad for animals:

1. Lack of sufficient Space

Giraffe in a Zoo

No matter how dedicated a zoo is, they can’t meet the space requirements for most of their animals. Animals such as lions, elephants, and tigers don’t get even close to one percent of the area they roam in the wild.

They normally find themselves locked in cages, and only released into an artificial habitat when there are visitors at the zoo.

On top of that, the animals don’t have much freedom even in these tiny spaces that they are forced to live in. Even if the animals are being fed well, the lack of freedom can cause them to be stressed.

For example, the typical enclosure designed for a polar bear is about a million times smaller than its natural roaming grounds. This can make the animals neurotic, causing them to start biting bars, pacing repetitively, and swaying.

See Related: War and the Effect on Wildlife

2. Unnatural Environments

Elephant in Captivity

Some animals are quite intelligent that keeping them in captivity should never be an option. The environment that these animals are kept in isn’t natural to them –more so the animals that are taken from the wilderness and kept in zoos.

Though some zoos plan on reintroducing the animals into the wild after a while, living in zoos makes it impossible for some animals. For example, a lion might have a hard time adjusting to hunting for its meals when it has spent years being fed and lazing around.

See Related: Animals That Start With I

3. Altered Behavior

Wild animals have certain behaviors that are uniquely influenced by their environments. Taking an animal –say a big cat, into an enclosed habitat when she can’t hunt for herself or can be detrimental to her life skills.

When big predators are brought up on dead meat and never have to hunt for themselves, mingle with the prey they can’t hunt, and entertain humans with tricks, they get further from their natural behaviors.

Lack of learning valuable animal life skills such as hunting and social structures eventually leads to the alteration of the said animal’s behavior.

This alteration of the animals’ behavior will eventually do more harm than good. Reintroduced animals have a hard time coping with life in the wild after long periods away.

See Related: What Is The Hunter’s Role in Wildlife Conservation?

4. Poor Living Conditions

Captive Monkey

Though the zoo’s business has grown from what it was over a century ago, there are still some things that can be improved.

Animals are forced to live in artificial habitats that aren’t anywhere close to their former homes (the wild). Their sleeping quarters can get overcrowded and this can lead to the animals harming each other.

Their lives in captivity can be harsh especially when the animal has been completely removed from its social structures. The confined living areas are a big contributor to animal stress and lack of physical stimulation –like would be gained from a nice sprint.

See Related: Most Comfortable Animals in The World

5. Short Lifespan

Life expectancy for animals in captivity depends on a couple of things, such as their way of life, among other factors.

For example, smaller and faster animals with a lot of predators in the wild tend to thrive in zoos. Slow animals with minimal to zero predators such as elephants have brief life spans in captivity.

Life expectancy is controlled by both the mental and physical health of most animals. Even though they might be getting enough food, if your animals are not okay mentally they might still not live to their full potential.

See Related: Best Wildlife Conservation Jobs

6. Zoos are Unethical

Monkey's Hand

As humans, we have no right to hunt and lock up animals for our enjoyment. Animal rights activists argue that hunting, capturing, and putting animals on display is unethical.

The animals too have rights and they shouldn’t be subjected to half the things they undergo. Animals are stressed when they get separated from their packs or herds, especially when they end up as the only one of their kind in their new homes.

When an animal is not on the endangered list, capturing it doesn’t serve any purpose to the animal. Capturing animals –even smart ones like apes, for amusement shouldn’t be going on anywhere. Even without a consciousness (that we know of) animals are alive and should be treated as such.

See Related: What is the Goal of Wildlife Conservation

7. Insufficient Knowledge of animals

Bird in a Cage

Some sad facts about zoos are that at times, the people hired to take care of and protect these animals aren’t very qualified. Cleaners and feeders spend a lot of time with the animals, understanding the situation one is getting into can be very helpful.

When the caretakers’ not well informed about the animals they are to be taking care of, it can be problematic. This is how animals get physical and psychological scars from abuse. If an untrained zookeeper comes across a stubborn animal, they might hurt it if they are impatient.

See Related: Endangered Species in Oklahoma

8. Cruel Treatment by Zookeepers

Caged Raccoon

Zoo animals sustain both physical and psychological scars from harsh zookeepers. However, suffering doesn’t have to be physical; boredom, confinement, and stress can cause an animal a lot of suffering.

Even when properly fed and “well” housed, they can never be fully relaxed in confined spaces. Especially animals like lions that are used to roaming vast distances in the wild in search of food.

To care for animals on a full-time basis requires someone who is both informed and cares about them. It’s zookeepers who aren’t fond of animals that go around hurting animals even when they haven’t been provoked. The worst ones are the malicious keepers who enjoy hurting animals in captivity.

See Related: Best Books on Endangered Species

9. Surplus Animals Killed and Sold Off

Breeding programs in zoos eventually lead to some animals being sold off to other zoos or worse –circuses. The allure of baby animals and the crowds they pull can lead a zoological garden director to increase them to keep attracting customers.

Sadly, once the small animals outgrow their “cute” phase, the zoo has to get rid of them since feeding and housing them all can get expensive.

The surpluses are then sold off to zoos, aquariums, or even circuses. However, when the animals being culled aren’t in demand, they might find themselves facing death. This is seen as a cheaper option as opposed to moving them back into the wild.

See Related: Importance of Wildlife Conservation

10. Working with Circuses

For the unlucky ones that end up in the circuses, they are always in for a wide awakening. The process of training an animal is a long and brutal one.

It gets even worse for the animal if the trainer is impatient, the poor beast will have to endure beatings over commands they don’t understand. Here is an example of just how harsh it can get when an animal is being trained to perform tricks.

The statistics on the number of big cats alone that have died in captivity between 1990 and 2021 is 126. And this is not a definite number of victims; there is probably a good number that that hasn’t been documented.

See Related: Best Conservation Posters

11. Breeding

Though the idea of breeding endangered animals to help increase their numbers back in the wild is great, there are problems that it comes with.

Understanding the optimal requirements for the reproduction of certain animals can be difficult. This could cause problems for the animal.

Animals also lose their genetic diversity especially due to inbreeding. Genes evolved overtime to help the animal adjust in a man-made habitat can be a downside to the populations of the species in the wild.

Some of the captive-born animals are not capable of sustaining themselves in the wild and they could pass on these genes –dooming the whole species in that region.

See Related: Endangered Species in California

12. Profits and lack of Regulations

Circus

Zoos are built as a source of income for some. The owners of such zoos are focused on maximizing profits even at the animals’ expense. Not investing enough when designing a habitat for your animals to save money.

Since most countries don’t have any regulations on how to handle animals in the zoo, these business people can do whatever it takes to make the most profits possible. Profits are also gained through the selling of animals to other zoos or circuses.

See Related: Why Were Animals So Big In the Past?

Do Zoos have any negative effects on the Environment?

Zoos can be productive when it comes to reviving an animal species at the brink of extinction. This isn’t always guaranteed since the breeding practices could be insufficient or even produce animals that are not suitable for survival in the wild.

When it works out, breeding endangered animals has positive results that can be felt even in the human kingdom.

However, there are some disadvantages of zoos on the environment ranging from overpopulations of a species to global warming.

See Related: How Similar is Human DNA to Other Animals

Negative Environmental Complications

People are always attracted to exotic animals such as Grizzlies, Lions, Wolves, Tigers, and Alligators among others.

The problem is that these large predators control the population of herbivorous animals in their domain. This can have huge negative effects on the environment in many adverse ways. For example, if the number of lions is drastically reduced in an area, their prey will thrive.

An increase in the populations of herbivorous animals such as deer and buffalos isn’t a good thing, especially not for the vegetation and ground cover.

Deforestation will be the next problem when animals such as moose, elks, and deer start eating everything even young trees. This becomes a major blow to the biodiversity of the affected region.

Once the ground has been left with no coverage, soil erosion will be the next step. When it rains, the topsoil gets washed away leaving the land more exposed.

Lack of trees to rain will then lead to less and less vegetation and eventually draught in the area which will force the surviving animals to migrate to areas with better conditions.

The lack of enough vegetation will then lead to global warming due to less carbon in the atmosphere. Climate change has become a very real threat for the next and even current generations.

See Related: Animals That Have Become Extinct in the Last 100 Years

Is there hope for the animals?

There are zoological park associations that were formed to keep zoo owners on their toes. Zoos are held to their word of conserving animals and releasing them back into the wild when they are ready.

An example of these associations is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that represents over 240 businesses across the globe. There’s also the Zoological Association of America that operates in the United States.

These associations ensure that members are treating their animals with high standard care and following any guidelines they provide. Things like ensuring animals aren’t caged and treated less than they deserve.

Sadly, most of these associations end up protecting the interests of their members, and not the animals they should be protecting.

Related Resources