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Zoos yay or nay?🐘🐯🦁

April 11, 2018

Studying Animal Behaviour at University I came across a lot of people asking me: Do you hate zoos? You must hate zoos then? Aren’t zoos cruel?

The truth is no I don’t and I never had, going to zoos my whole life has been a big influence as to why I even went to study Animal Behaviour.

But what I’ve learnt in uni is to be open minded and listen to both sides!

Steve Backshall

Steve Backshall (off deadly 60) created a great article on zoos and how great they are for educating and inspiring the next generation.

A really great read!

Our best zoos are now at the forefront of animal welfare and conservation awareness. When I was a kid, zoo enclosures had notices alongside that identified an animal, said where it comes from and what it eats. Now there will also be a display noting their conservation status, the threats that face them, and in the best institutions, things you can personally do to make a difference.

Heres a link for it: A Trip to the Zoo?


The role of the zoo prioritises research, education, conservation and animal welfare.

Zoos have to abide to a number of acts to protect the animals such as animal welfare act, endangered species act etc.

Most zoos have massively improved their animal welfare standards in the last century with always more room for improvement, with having to maintain the high standards expected by the wildlife acts and public with;

Creating better enclosures-
  • Apes become stressed when having direct contact with humans, zoos have created hides or made sure the public are not on the same level as them.
  • Not all species need large spaces it can sometimes be quality over quantity
supplying enrichments –
  • Animals working for their food and keeping them busy: include hiding food in boxes or paper sacks.
  • The use of olfactory enrichment, which utilises sense of smell. Items such as herbs and spices, perfume and deodorant, catnip for the cats or even toothpaste or mouthwash can be dotted around the exhibit before allowing the animal access to it.
  • Cognitive enrichment is used to provide and enhance an animal’s mental stimulation, by creating puzzle feeder training sessions
  • enrichment objects to encourage natural behaviours
Researching –

Many UK zoo animals are part of European breeding programmes (EEPs) that aim to preserve threatened species and create self-sustaining populations.

The importance of these programmes have led to a great number of scientific studies dedicated to understanding the reproductive biology and needs of our animals. These studies have increase animal awareness and improved welfare standards.


Educating the public at the zoo creates a development for concern.

Zoos educate the public with signs and posts placed by the animal enclosure but what has seemed to be the most effective is animal demonstrations and talks.

The public learn more about an animal’s conservative status and what is dragging them towards extinction, which influences more people to want to do their bit to help by learning this and seeing the animals in person.

“it is difficult to be concerned about the fate of an animal you have never even seen”

Not everyone can afford to go to Africa or places like that to see these animals in the wild, this can be from children gaining an interest or even students studing for their course and interest.


Now for some species that are highly intelligent and live in large social groups, it can be difficult for them adapt to living in a zoo.

African elephants have found to have a shorter lifespan in zoos than when protected in the wild, they have reproductive problems and at least 50% of zoo elephant are found to perform stereotypic behaviours.

Elephants are intelligent animals with complex social lives and live in stable family groups of about 5-15 related females, who spend their lives in the group in which they grew up.

The absence of normal socialization structures may increase high stress and social disruption.

But elephants are facing serious threats of extinction due to poaching, so what else can we do?

Elephants seem to struggle with stereotypic behaviours living in zoos and they need to be in large groupings and cover a lot of walking distances throughout their lives.

I’ve found a lot of zoos/safaris I have been too Longleat, West Midlands, Noahs ark, Paigton zoo etc that house elephants don’t seem to have a large group only 1,2 or 3 of the elephants.

Should zoos be allowed to house elephants if they can’t achieve their social needs?

Other species that may not be suitable for captive life is:

  • polar bears- stereotypies, enclosure sizes does not match their wild environments
  • killer whales and other sealife- can’t mimic the expansion of oceans

However there are some animals that thrive in a good zoo envirovment, for example Lions live an average 12-16 years in the wild but up to 25 years in captivity.


Keepers don’t train the animals for the public’s amusement but for the animal’s welfare so they are not stressed when having to be assessed by a vet or keeper when ill or pregnant.

Training animals with treats and rewards can also give the animal motivation and stop boredom which are both important in captive animals.

This can be such as training a sea lion with treats to roll over so they can have an ultrasound with less stress as it’s a motivation to gain a reward.

Or training a big cat using clicker training to put their paw on the fence so they can take blood in case something is wrong with the animal.


So obviously wildlife reserves are ideally more suitable for wild animals to be bred and looked after, but they at more risk of poaching and the cost are a lot higher and harder to maintain.

Zoos are an alternative approach, now I’m not saying all zoos are great with their housing sizes and grouping etc but we do have some very good ones and it can only get better from here.

So many wild animals are threatened with becoming extinct, such as three out of five species of rhino are critically endangered; the Western black gone, Javan and Sumatran rhinos nearly extinct.

We’ve gone from half a million to a few thousand rhinos left in the blink of an eye. While those left in the wild are so precious, the rhinos that are in zoos/reserves are of high importance to the survival of their species.

Zoos have the power to influence, inspire and excite the next generation.

The pragmatist in me says the captivity of certain animals is essential. And of course they would be better in the wild, but we are past such naïve idealism now.- Steve Backshall

So there you have it! I think zoos are great for raising awareness, influencing the next generation, and education.

Although captivity may not be for all species and not every zoo is as good as it could be, it does have it’s impact with preventing animal extinction.

What is your opinion on the zoo?

Jennifer Ann 🙂

4 People reacted on this

  1. This is a controversial subject. I believe animals should no longer be captured to be placed in zoos unless they are rescued and cannot be released again into the wild. Animals born in captivity are unlikely to be capable of surviving in the wild, too.

    While in a zoo, they teach children and people in general about the wildlife and the zoo can have truly educational programmes about protecting the endangered species or their habitats or protecting the environment. Zoos should make sure the animal has enough space which resembles its natural habitat and it receives food as similar to a wildlife diet as possible.

  2. I absolutely LOVE that you wrote about this. My first instinct is to be supportive of zoos that make conservation and humane care their top priorities, which I think most do. But I do love that you talk about improvements that can be made as well. It’s such a complex issue that I’m not sure there’s a black and white answer. Great read

    1. Thank you! It’s definitely is a complex issue with no right or wrong answer but there is a lot of difference in opinions out there that refuse to be open minded about it! Thanks for reading and for your input 🙂

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