A Look at Animal Cruelty in Some Zoos
If your thoughts about species survival are: “Let nature take its course” then you might feel that there is no purpose behind today's modern zoos, however if you feel that people need to aid in the survival of animal species then you might feel that "good" zoos are necessary. With that said there have been some issues of cruelty in zoos.
- Why do we Need Zoos
- Early Cruelty
- Cruelty in how Some Animals are Obtained, Bred, and Sold
- Cruel Entertainment
- Cage Design
- Roadside Zoos
- How to Reduce Cruelty in Zoos
Why do we Need Zoos
The name “zoo” actually comes from “Zoology” or the study of animals, and indeed the first zoos were in part of entertainment as well as study. The actual word “zoo” was first used in the early 1800's with London's Zoological Gardens, which opened to the public in 1845. With that said, animals were collected and cages long before this time. One of the earliest collections of animals may date to 3500 BC, in Egypt.
Early zoos were to study animals, as we have said, but also took on an “entertainment” factor which mostly took on the form of helping to raise funds for the zoo itself. In more modern times zoos are important to conserve endangered species – especially in the wake of the Holocene Extinction Event. Many modern zoos work to repopulate areas where species have declined and to help preserve endangered species. There are many animals who today only survive in zoos, and are listed as “Extinct in the Wild”.
Cruelty to animals was common in ancient Rome where many wild animals were often pitted against each other for human entertainment. It is without a doubt that early zoos were cruel in that they lacked the space many animals required, and were often devoid of mental stimulation.
The focus on many cages was to keep the animal visible at all times, and often expenses in regards to providing adequate enclosures from the animal's point of view, were overlooked and neglected.
Cruelty in how Some Animals are Obtained, Bred, and Sold
Other cruelty concerns are in regards to the capture of wild animals for zoos. It is believed that for every animal captured from the wild, several die in capture attempts, or die from stress shortly after being captured. This is why some zoos only take captive bred animals.
Many zoos suffer from producing more animals than they can keep, they offer these other animals for sale, but certain animals produce faster than a demand would require. As such many offspring do not find homes – some are sold to game farms for trophy hunting (I have witnessed this myself at an auction), others are reportedly slaughtered (as in the case of deer) and fed to other zoo animals.
Berlin's zoo gained attention after hundreds of animals were noted as having gone missing, many were sent to China to be used in alternative medicine, or were slaughtered.
In some cases zoo animals are sold over and over and over. This is very stressful to an animal and could be considered cruel.
Some zoos in Asia engage in what many people (particularly North Americans) would consider cruel entertainment. They offer live animals for zoo patrons to feed to big cats, such as tigers. Visitors can apparently throw live goats to these cats, or can offer them a live chicken tied to a pole. While many would argue that these big cats would normally hunt and kill prey, it is much different in that the prey normally has a fighting chance to get away, and more would would be required by the cat to hunt its prey.
These zoos are also noted for taking baby animals away from their mothers and placing them with an alternative species, such as placing piglets with a tiger. The premise being that the mother tiger lost her cubs and is raising piglets, but in fact the entire scenario is man made. One example of this was circulated in an e-mail not long ago.
Many zoo animals suffer from boredom brought on by a lack of mental stimulation. This is not exclusive to zoo animals and is also seen in horses (weaving, cribbing) and dogs (chewing, digging). Nonetheless many zoos are working on stimulating the minds of the captive animals, giving them games, or puzzles, as ways to have them get their food, or giving them other “enrichment”.
Note how much better this enclosure is than the one in the earlier elephant image. - Although the picture only shows part of the enclosure, it is designed with natural elements.
In my own lifetime I have seen many changes in how zoo animals are housed and cared for, with more and more zoos improving enclosure sizes and environments. I lived near the Detroit Zoo which had excellent animal enclosures. When I was a young boy, one of my dreams was to design zoo enclosures for animals, this is on thing that has really improved, with some zoos shutting down due to the fact that their enclosures were small and bordered on cruelty.
photo source -
Roadside zoos are largely unregulated and are often “off the beaten path”. These “zoos” are where most cruelty takes place in that the animals are typically poorly cared for due to a lack of funds and a desire by their owner to make a profit. Their cages are small, the animals are underfed, and visitors tend to have less respect for the animals as a result of a lack of professionalism in the “zoo” itself.
People who really love animals would not visit such roadside zoos. When you visit them, you only encourage them to continue - do not be fooled - your money will NOT go towards improving the conditions in which the animals live - it will go towards improving the conditions in which the owner of the zoo lives.
How to Reduce Cruelty in Zoos
Zoos should not breed animals unless they intend to release the offspring into the wild for the purpose of helping a species survive, or if they have other good zoos interested in the produced offspring.
Zoos should stick to only buying animals from other zoos, not wild caught animals, and should only buy other animals if they can expect to provide a lifetime home for those animals.
Zoos should work with wildlife rehabilitation centers.
Zoos should have enrichment programs for the animals in their care, thus offering mental stimulation and exercise.
Zoos should be regulated and subject to random checks. There should me minimum cage sizes for all animals, and there should be periods of time when certain exhibits are off limits to the public to “give the animals a break”.
Species that do not do well in captivity, such as Koalas (who suffer reduced lifespans in captivity) should be kept out of zoos, or housed in zoos in such a way that they are unaware of the human presence.
All zoos should have to pass some sort of accreditation. In North America, for example, less than 10% of the licensed zoos are accredited by AZA, the Association for Zoos and Aquariums (keep in mind many more zoos are unlicensed).
Again - the public must refuse to support poor quality zoos.