6th April 2023

In my role as an investigator for Freedom for Animals, I visit many zoos, aquariums, mobile zoos, and other facilities that hold animals captive for human entertainment. Investigations are crucial to the work Freedom for Animals carries out on behalf of animals in captivity. By using different forms of undercover investigation tactics, and gaining footage from a variety of sources, our aim is to share the truth of what animals are forced to endure, and expose the reality of zoos, aquariums and other facilities. 

Over the years, I have visited many places where animals are confined in cages. Occasionally, I may do this by posing as a member of the public and entering specific targets to observe and take photographs. Other times, I may work undercover so I can gain up-close and in-depth footage from behind the scenes to show the daily reality of imprisoned animals’ lives. 

Every time I visit these establishments, the sad reality that captive animals endure is clear to see. However, I also see how necessary this work truly is, and the real benefits that investigations deliver by exposing this cruel industry. I see the emotional public reactions to the footage I record, the conversation around zoos and aquariums shifting with each exposure, and the change that is possible. If the public stops visiting zoos, then they stop making money, which is an important step towards closing them down for good; after all that’s why zoos, aquariums and mobile zoos exist - for profit.

As you know, Easter sees our annual event, Zoo Awareness Weekend taking place across the country. It’s at this time of year that we shine an extra bright light on the zoo industry; from highlighting the lack of true conservation, to showing specific examples of cruelty that animals endure in captivity. By raising awareness of devastating issues such as the tethering of birds of prey, the pinioning of water birds, and elephants being kept in enclosures so small they are driven mad, we can ensure the public takes notice and hears their story! 

This year I visited the Sea Life London Aquarium, which is located in an underground building meaning that the majority of animals incarcerated there will have never seen the light of day. I was made aware from online sources that a group of penguins were being held on display there, with no access to fresh air or natural light. Their only sources of “enrichment” being a very small pool and a painting on the wall of what their home should really be like. 

It was a heart-breaking sight to witness these beautiful and intelligent animals staring at a poorly painted mirage of their home, and to be faced with the reality of how far removed their living conditions are to what they would be in the wild. 

Gentoo penguins come from the Antarctic peninsula, and would travel vast distances each year in the search of food to feed their families. They are social and lively animals, with flamboyant orange beaks, white feather caps, peach coloured feet, not to mention the world's fastest underwater birds! All of these amazing characteristics make them so perfectly adapted to live in the arctic conditions of their natural world, not trapped in an underground cage filled with fake snow and fake light. 

Of the nine penguins I could see, at least four sat facing the wall. One of them didn’t move the entire time I was there. He just stood, facing the wall, lifeless, staring at the painted wall that was mimicking his real home. How can this cruelty be allowed?

This is the sad reality so many animals that live in zoos and aquariums face each day. They have painted landscapes and fake plants plastered across their cages, to disguise the unnatural reality. It is a poor attempt to brighten up the prison they cannot escape, and fool visitors into believing that the animals are living in a natural environment.

During zoo investigations, I often notice how many people simply look at an enclosure for a matter of minutes, sometimes even just seconds, before moving on. But these innocent animals do not get that freedom, they are stuck in their cage for their whole lifetime with no hope of escape! 

This includes the penguins at Sea Life London Aquarium, and the countless other individuals held in the neighbouring tanks.

And then I noticed Gus, a giant albino gourami fish, swimming almost motionless in a small tank all alone. People were walking past him and laughing at his appearance, yet I thought he was one of the most beautiful but heartbreaking sights I’d ever seen. His eyes locked with mine as I filmed him, and I knew I had to share his story.

In the wild he would inhabit large rivers and lakes in the Far East, travelling long distances to enter marshland and forest lakes in the wet seasons. Although often described as a “loner” fish, in their natural habitat they would of course travel and come into contact with other individuals along their journey; so to keep a fish completely alone with no enrichment, in a tank environment, is incredibly cruel and unnatural.  

During the same visit, I witnessed one of the resident green turtles, Phoenix, swimming back and forth while pressing her flippers against the walls of her tank, desperately trying to escape the limits of her fake environment. Like Lulu at Brighton Sealife Centre, these incredible animals would migrate thousands of miles throughout their lifetime, and travel back to the same beach they - and their ancestors before them - were born at to lay their precious eggs. Yet all of these natural instincts and ancient journeys are denied to them in aquariums, simply so humans can gawp at them through glass. 

It is through these vital investigations that we are able to gather evidence to show the public the true reality of captivity, to shine a light on the suffering and help raise awareness. Because when public attitudes change, long term change begins. 

Please donate to our appeal to carry out more investigations and show the true reality of captivity

(All images taken on Sealife London Aquarium investigation by FFA).

- 6th April 2023