Imagine being so lonely that you end up going CRAZY!
Zoos evolved at a time when travel for most people was impractical. Nowadays, wildlife watchers can hop on a plane to Africa, Australia, or Costa Rica for photo safaris or even stay at home and catch nature documentaries on television or view live Internet video feeds, which can capture animals’ natural behavior that is rarely, if ever, seen in zoos.
There is no excuse for keeping intelligent social animals in cages for our fleeting distraction and amusement. Habitat loss and other dangers of the wild are not prevented by confining animals to cramped conditions and depriving them of everything that is natural and important to them.
Caged and Crazed
Most zoo exhibits provide animals with few, if any, opportunities to express natural behavior or make choices in their daily lives. Animals are closely confined, lack privacy, and have extremely limited possibilities for mental stimulation or physical exercise. These conditions often result in abnormal and self-destructive behaviors, also known as “zoochosis.”
Wide-ranging animals, such as bears and big cats, pace incessantly. Primates and birds mutilate themselves, and chimpanzees and gorillas become overly aggressive. Hooved animals lick and chew on fences and make strange lip, neck, and tongue movements. Giraffes twist their necks, bending their heads back and forth repeatedly. Elephants bob their heads and sway from side to side.
When Cute Little Babies Grow Up
Baby animals in zoos are crowd pleasers, but breeding programs—under the guise of species preservation—inevitably result in a surplus of less “cute” adult animals. Zoos routinely trade, loan, sell, or barter adult animals they no longer want.
Unwanted animals may be sold to dealers, who then sell the animals to dilapidated roadside zoos or traveling circuses. From 2006 to 2009, Missouri’s Dickerson Park Zoo handed over “surplus” giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, wallabies, and exotic antelopes to questionable entities, including Buddy Jordan, a notorious animal dealer who is known to have sold animals to hunting ranches, exotic-animal breeders, dealers, and unaccredited zoos. New Jersey’s Cape May County Zoo sold two giraffes, Twiggs and Jeffrey, to an animal broker who then sold them to a traveling circus. (1)
The exotic-pet trade has become saturated with tigers and other big cats because of the zoo industry’s reckless disposal of exotic animals. Other animals are simply sold for slaughter. Each year, when baby animals who are exhibited in the Minnesota Zoo’s farm display grow up and lose their appeal, the zoo sends them to livestock auctions, where many are ultimately sent to slaughter.
Not a single U.S. zoo has a policy of providing lifetime care for the animals who are born at its facilities, and many zoos breed species knowing in advance that the offspring—especially males—will be difficult to place when they mature.
Danger Behind Bars
By their very nature, zoos leave animals vulnerable to a variety of dangers from which they have no defense or opportunity to escape. Animals in zoos from coast to coast have been poisoned, left to starve, deprived of veterinary care, and burned alive in fires. Many have died after eating coins, plastic bags, and other items thrown into their cages. Animals have been beaten, bludgeoned, and stolen by people who were able to gain access to their exhibits.
A bear starved to death at the Toledo Zoo after zoo officials locked her up to hibernate without food or water—not knowing that her species doesn’t hibernate. At the Niabi Zoo in Illinois, a 3-month-old lion cub was euthanized after his spinal cord had been crushed by a falling exhibit door. Despite knowing that two Asiatic bears had fought dozens of times, the Denver Zoo continued to house them together until one finally killed the other. A kangaroo who was struck by a train running through the exhibit at the Cleveland Zoo was so severely injured that she had to be euthanized, and she was at least the fifth animal to be struck by the train. A hyena at the Buffalo Zoo was crushed to death by a boulder in the exhibit. At the Saint Louis Zoo, a polar bear died during exploratory surgery, which revealed that pieces of cloth and a plastic trash bag had obstructed his digestive tract.
In the event of natural disasters such as floods, wildfires, and hurricanes, animals are often left to fend for themselves. When wildfires broke out near the Los Angeles Zoo, officials admitted that they had no evacuation plan. And during Hurricane Katrina, most of the 6,000 aquatic animals at a New Orleans aquarium perished when the power failed and employees were forced to vacate the premises.
What You Can Do
Zoos will be forced to stop breeding and capturing more animals from the wild if their financial support disappears, so the most important way to help animals who are imprisoned in zoos is simply to boycott zoos and urge everyone you know to do the same.
With informative television programming, educational opportunities on the Internet, and the relative ease of international travel, learning about or viewing animals in their natural habitats can be as simple as a flick of a switch or a hike up a mountain. The idea of keeping animals confined behind cage bars is obsolete.
1) Amy S. Rosenberg, “What Kind of Life Do Giraffes Prefer? Irascible at the Cape May Count Zoo, Happy in the Circus,” Philadelphia Inquirer 5 Aug. 2001.