In response to the natural behaviours displayed by gorillas in captivity, zoos are choosing to put them under the knife to make them behave. 

Mature “silverback” gorillas can be highly aggressive and dominant. In the wild, this behaviour is an important part of the gorillas’ social structure as the “silverback” must protect their family and the rest of the troop. In zoos, these natural behaviours are considered a problem as they do not fit in the unnatural, man-made environment these gorillas are forced to live in.

Rather than acknowledging this behaviour as yet more evidence that these animals  are not well-suited to life in captivity, zoos are deciding to castrate dozens of male gorillas to make them more ‘manageable’.

The stress and frustration of captivity has been known to exacerbate these aggressive traits, posing a risk to the humans managing and visiting the zoo. When discussing Kumbuka, a gorilla in London zoo who has damaged and escaped his enclosure before, primate behaviour scientist Dr Emily Bethell said:

“...the problem can arise when this becomes a chronic situation, where he is being stared at by people, and is feeling under threat by being stared at day after day”

The answer then surely, is to give them freedom, not surgery?

In the wild, gorillas can roam freely. A threat can be scared off or the troop can move to a safer location. In captivity, they can never escape their enclosure to leave a potentially stressful situation. Instead, they become more stressed and aggressive. Studies of UK zoos in 2008 and 2016 both found that an increase in zoo visitors led to an increase in gorilla aggression, both towards visitors and to each other.

Unlike their wild cousins, gorillas in zoos will be surgically punished for displaying natural behaviours.

It is bad enough that we choose to keep animals like these gorillas in captivity for our entertainment. Now, it is even more obvious that the zoos’ convenience takes priority over the animals’ needs, forcing them to go through unnecessary surgical procedures.

Not only is this practice being considered, it is also endorsed by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). EAZA’s David Williams-Mitchell goes as far as to say that castration is an “ethical alternative”.

It what sense is surgically mutilating animals who should not even be in captivity in the first place ‘ethical’? Just like castrating a human, castration has a significant impact on the physiology of gorillas and other primates. Surely the true ‘ethical alternative’ is to give these animals their freedom, to respect their needs and natural behaviours and to protect them in their own homes?

This practice also sheds further light on the feeble conservation claims of zoos.

How can zoos maintain the position that they hope to return gorillas to the wild, when they are making them sterile? These individuals would never be able to breed making them poor candidates for reintroduction to a wild population. 

This is not the first time we have exposed the zoo industry mutilating animals in their 'care'. In 2013 we unearthed how the industry was illegally mutilating birds by chopping off their wings.

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