More than 5 million animals are held in zoos worldwide
In these days of high technology where animals can be viewed in their natural habitat, through the means of films, videos, DVDs etc. It is difficult to make an argument for the continuation of zoos.
The basic concept of zoos
Zoos are still collections of animals held in unnatural enclosures, which the public can view as a form of recreation.
It is estimated that more than 5 million animals are held in zoos worldwide. Their conditions vary from total impoverishment and deprivation, to facilities, where some effort is made to address the restrictions on their freedom imposed by captivity.
Some zoos attempt to provide some forms of education, but they mainly teach the public about the captive behaviour of animals. Despite the fact that a small number of zoos provide good educational facilities, the vast majority have little or no educational value at all.
The zoos that address education most successfully often have extensive non-animal facilities such as lecture theatres, video equipment and other technology. The showing of wildlife films and documentaries can generate an active interest in wild animals and the physical presence of the zoo animals is usually unnecessary. Now that the public are more aware of how animals behave in the wild, it has become obvious that the way many animals are kept in zoos is damaging.
Although many zoos declare an interest and contribution to conservation, only a few actually keep and breed endangered species. The vast majority of zoo animals are not endangered. Zoos tend to focus on conserving single species in isolation whilst ignoring their habitats.
There have been very few cases of zoos successfully releasing captive-bred species back to the wild. Most successful cases of captive-bred reintroductions take place ‘in situ’, in reserves within the animals’ natural environment. These projects are considerably less expensive than zoo-based captive-bred conservation and seem to offer the highest chances of success.
Zoo-based conservation is fraught with problems such as lack of genetic diversity; the inability of zoo-bred animals to cope with life in the wild; the high costs and practical difficulties involved, particularly in returning an animal to the wild; the lack of suitable re-introduction sites; the disruption to wild animals; and the possibility for the spread of disease between resident and reintroduced animals.
Only a handful of zoos are involved in viable research, much of which is devoted to the study of disease and physiology and is primarily aimed at keeping species in zoos, not how better to conserve species in their natural habitat. Many infections and diseases are a result of an animal being kept in captivity, and are rarely, if ever, seen in the wild. Results from captive studies therefore have limited benefits to the species in the wild.
Problems of animal behaviour
Throughout the world including the UK, thousands of zoo animals held in artificial environments with little stimulation, enrichment or opportunity to hide from the public gaze, display unnatural behaviour patterns. Even in the ‘better’ zoos, abnormal behaviour can be widespread, and include repeated pacing, rocking, vomiting and even self-mutilation.
Some of these ‘stereotyped’ behaviours displayed by bored and frustrated animals, have their basis in activities that occur naturally the wild. But in the impoverished confines of captivity, these behaviours can become compulsive and unnatural.
The repeated biting, rubbing the mouth along, or even sucking on the bars of an enclosure, which can result in damage to teeth and the mouth area particularly if the bars are rusty. (Can be displayed by captive bears)
The continual licking on walls, bars or gates in an enclosure. (Can be displayed by giraffes and camels)
Continuous walking back and forth, following the same path. Signs of regular pacing include definite paths worn in the ground. (Can be displayed by big cats)
An acute form of pacing, the following of a defined route placing feet in exactly the same position each time. (Can be displayed by elephants & bears)
Unnatural twisting and rolling of the neck, often flicking the head around or bending the neck back. It can be combined with a pacing behaviour. (Can be displayed by giraffe, llama & monkey species)
A form of ‘bulimia’, the repeated vomiting, eating of vomit and regurgitation. (Can be displayed by gorillas & chimpanzees)
Playing with and eating excrement, smearing it on wall and glass. (Can be displayed by gorillas & chimpanzees)
Sitting, sometimes hugging the legs, rocking forwards and back. A recognised symptom of mental illness in humans. (Can be displayed by chimpanzees)
Standing in one place and swaying the head and shoulders, even the whole body, from side to side. This behaviour can be exhibited by mentally ill humans. (Can be displayed by elephants & bears)
Head bobbing & weavingStanding in one place and continuously moving the head up and down, or weaving to and fro. (Can be displayed by bears and elephants)
Grooming to an excessive extent, pulling out hair or feathers, often leaving bald patches, irritated and broken skin. (Can be displayed bears & parrots)
Self-inflicted physical harm, such as biting or chewing tail or leg, or hitting a head against a wall. (Can be displayed by big cats, bears & primates)