30th March 2024 

Guest blog by an ex-zookeeper. Their identity is not disclosed to protect anonymity. 

My Love For Animals

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a fascination with wildlife, with a specific love for monkeys and apes. 

It should come as no surprise that myself and many other people are in awe of our fellow primate cousins. Because after all, they are our family. 

We are descended from common ancestors, and therefore share a considerable amount of our DNA with other primates, especially with our ape cousins. Around 98% of our DNA is shared with the likes of chimpanzees and gorillas. So maybe it's the similarity, but the lack of ability to speak the same language, that has always made them so fascinating to me.

Like lots of people, throughout my teenage years and early twenties, I went from job to job, doing things that I lacked passion for, and had no desire to do. Until one day, I sat down and thought about it long and hard. “What do I WANT to do?”, “What job would I love to have?”

Getting a Job in a Zoo

The thought popped into my head, “Well I'd love to work with monkeys and/or apes”. 

I quickly came to the realisation that I didn't want to go to university, mainly due to the financial aspect, so I then started to think of how I could pursue a career working with primates through other routes.

I decided my main aim should be to gain experience working with animals, any animals, in order to hopefully use that knowledge to get my foot in the door within a zoological environment. And so that’s what I did.

After working for 3 years with dogs and cats and obtaining a couple of qualifications through online courses in zoology and animal care, I finally applied for a role within a UK zoo. 

Initially, my role wasn’t as a zoo keeper, I would help with the animals somewhat, however the main aspect of the role was to be a friendly face for visitors and to provide “educational talks" to the public regarding the animals at the zoo.

I just remember being so excited; knowing that I had been successful in getting one step closer to my dream job - to be a zookeeper!

After about 6 months in this role, I applied for an opening as a member of the primate team. I was shocked but thrilled to get the job; bearing in mind I had no previous experience working in zoos.

My role was working full time with gorillas and other primates, but the nature of the job meant I would gain experience in other areas with other animals over the years to come.

The Happy Years

I was a zookeeper for around 5 years in total, and for roughly 2 and a half years I was very happy within my job. It was as I’ve said, a dream come true. I believed I was surrounded by people who felt just as passionately about animals as I did, and I got to spend 9 hours a day, 5 days a week with animals who I loved greatly.

I also really felt as though I was making a positive difference to the animals within my care as well as doing my bit to inform the public on how they could help wild populations.

It was around the 3 year mark that I actually went ‘vegan’ whilst still working at the zoo. Now of course that’s part of a wider discussion as to whether or not I can really say I was a ‘vegan’ zookeeper, but what I mean by that is I had learnt the horrors of animal agriculture and had cut out all animal products from my diet. 

The next few years would lead me toward encompassing veganism in other aspects of my life, not just the food I consumed.

Unethical Practises I Witnessed Within The Zoo

Staff and Public Mocking the Animals

People banging on animal enclosure windows, it goes hand in hand with an operational zoo. It shouldn’t but it does. And can you really blame people? 

The fact that we have animals locked in cages behind bars and glass, tells you everything you need to know about the relationship we want to have with these animals.

We are the oppressor on one side of the glass, and the animals are viewed as existing for our entertainment on the other side. 

It’s only natural in this setting that people expect animals to perform for them to come closer to the windows or to do something deemed ‘funny’ to laugh at. 

People who pay to go into a zoo expect to see animals, so if they do not get a clear view of the animal, or the animal has their back facing towards the window, then, in their mind, there is only one way to get their attention, and that’s to bang on the windows.

It was a daily occurance, not just once a day, but multiple times a day, that I would have to tell people to stop banging on enclosure windows as it causes the animals distress.

Yet, unfortunately it was not just members of the public that I was forced to have these conversations with. I distinctly remember one occasion when I had to shout at a member of staff for mocking the silverback gorilla. 

He was standing at the windows, puffing his chest out and standing as large as he could shouting things at the silverback like “come on then!”. He was basically asking for a fight, but the silverback was of course behind glass. 

The silverback stood up and banged on the windows, making a crowd of people scream and laugh. 

This is the disrespect I witnessed staff members showing the animals; all to get a laugh out of a crowd or to make themselves feel bigger, better and more superior than the poor animals held captive.

Needless to say, this member of staff got an earful in front of the crowd and he didn’t feel very big then!

As the years went on, this took its toll on me more and more, and towards the end of my time as a zookeeper I couldn’t help but see things differently. 

Just walking to the gorilla enclosure and seeing hundreds of people standing at the windows, staring in at my best friends, would honestly make me feel sick to my stomach. All I wanted to do was protect them, and respect their privacy. But there is no such thing as privacy when you’re an imprisoned animal.

The disrespect shown to them is so clear to see, and completely unacceptable.

Acquiring Animals

The main method of inviting new animals into a zoological collection is via ‘breeding programmes’, meaning the animals are born and bred within captivity.

Animals who are part of a ‘breeding program’ are merely traded between collections. For example: If a zoo in Germany required a male lion for breeding with their female lion, then someone known as the ‘stud book keeper’ would inspect the records from zoos around the world and match a male lion to that female, taking into account genetics / bloodline, to avoid inbreeding as far as possible.

These days it is uncommon for animals to be taken from the wild and placed within zoos. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen in certain areas of the world, or for certain species, however it is more uncommon.

One thing that zoos claim to NEVER do is pay money for animals. It is in fact within the guidelines of organisations such as BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) to never exchange money for animals kept within zoos.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to learn that the zoo in which I worked appeared to be bypassing the guidelines set by governing bodies.

I discovered that we were, in fact, buying animals from private exotic animal breeders; thus paying into the very pet trade that we as zoo keepers told the general public never to support.

The Forgotten Victims of the Zoo Industry

Carnivores within the zoo were fed primarily horse meat. This can come from a number of different places including ex-’pets’ and ex-racehorses.

I would help to cut up the dead horses ready to be fed to the lions, tigers and other carnivores. As you can imagine it was disgusting. 

What made it even worse to stomach was the fact they would sometimes be delivered to us as a whole carcass, head included. 

I have memories of colleagues of mine posing with horse heads whilst we both laughed. It’s times like this that fill me with utter sadness and regret.

Other animals fed to animals in zoos include: rats, mice, chicks… the list goes on.

In the UK it is illegal to feed carnivores live animals (with the exception of insects), however that isn’t to say that if an animal died of natural causes they wouldn’t be fed to the carnivores. This is something I witnessed happen on a number of occasions.

Conservation is a False Narrative

One night a fox broke into one of the animal enclosures and killed a number of individuals, leaving their bodies there for staff to find in the morning.

This was obviously very sad, but hard to avoid if you have animals in open-top enclosures. The fox of course was only doing what came naturally to them, and they should never be blamed for this. In the same way that foxes will kill ‘pet’ chickens or birds on farms, they should not be held accountable as they are, of course, wild animals fulfilling their natural instincts.

My colleague at the time, caught and trapped a fox in a cage (thought to be the fox which killed the animals). There was of course no way of knowing. Yet, shockingly, my colleague then proceeded to shoot the fox dead. Zoo management were aware and approved of this.

I remember being so shocked at the time, as I couldn’t quite believe a zoo would kill native wildlife whilst pushing a narrative that the zoo exists as a means to conserve species. This is a huge contradiction and in my opinion smashes apart one of the main reasons the zoo industry claims to exist.


As you can imagine, zoos attract their fair share of ‘pests’, which to paying guests doesn’t always look very good. So the zoo takes precautions to try and tackle these animals.

We had a ‘pest’ team and department who would tackle this problem every single day. 

This included controlling the wasp and bee population by hanging bottles filled with sweet substances in trees, which would attract the bees and wasps. Upon entering the bottles, they would not be able to escape and would drown in the liquid.

When it came to rodents (mainly rats) a wide variety of traps would be used. Snap traps, poison, and glue traps were commonplace. 

The hypocrisy was so strong that zookeepers, whose job was supposedly to care for animals, would find themselves chasing baby rats around small animal enclosures and stamping them to death. 

Keepers would regularly lay down glue traps on the floor to trap rats. Due to their nature, if an animal comes into contact with a glue trap, they are often stuck there for hours before dying. 

They would desperately attempt to free themselves from the strong adhesive, but there is no way to escape. Scared, stressed, in pain and screaming for help, they are forced to lie there until they die 

And in the circumstance that the animal does not die by the time the glue trap is checked, then they are killed, usually by blunt force. Keepers were even known to use hammers to kill the rats stuck on glue traps.

I will never get the screams out of my head, from the many times keepers caught rats with glue traps. It is a sound that will haunt me forever.

Needless to say, it’s not just your typical ‘pest’ species that are caught with glue traps. Any animal that can gain access to the area where glue traps are laid on the ground, are at risk. There were multiple occasions where birds were killed. 

Separation of Families

As previously mentioned animals are often moved from one zoo to another as part of ‘breeding programmes’. I don’t have enough fingers to count on two hands how many times I caught monkeys in nets, put them in crates and shipped them off in the back of a van to be taken to another zoo.

To think that one day you could be sitting with your family, and the next you’re in the back of a van going to a new and unknown home, all without any knowledge of why or any comprehension if you’d see your family again… it is heartbreaking.

But at the time, this never really bothered me, until I had to do the same with one of the gorillas within my care.

It goes without saying, but gorillas are highly intelligent, sentient beings. If we are to ascribe any intelligence to humans, then we must be ready to give most of that intelligence to our fellow ape cousins. 

As you can imagine, the family troop of gorillas is very close. A very tight knit family dynamic formed of incredibly close bonds, between silverback and females, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, cousins, and sisters and brothers. 

The primary role of the silverback is to take care of his family, and to make sure no harm ever comes to them by protecting them at all costs. But this of course is very difficult to do when every aspect of your daily life is controlled and dictated by the humans who hold you prisoner.

It was decided that one of the female gorillas within my care would be moved to a European zoo. And I was asked to go with her to her new home.

Dealing with any sort of procedure like this with gorillas is very high stress and very intense. We separated her from her family, shot her with a dart gun, waited for her to fall asleep, before loading her into a crate in the back of a van. 

During this whole time, we had her partner, the silverback, banging as hard as he could on the door, panhooting in fear and stress, desperately trying to be reunited with her. 

Little did she know that she would never see her partner again, or her son, sisters, mother, nieces or nephews. They would never see each other again, their bond ripped apart for profit. 

To this day, this is by far the most traumatic thing I have ever experienced. I have so much guilt about it still, and it causes me so much pain knowing that I was partly responsible for it. 

I went to the European zoo with the female gorilla in a bid to settle her into her new home and introduce her to her new troop. 

Needless to say, after arriving at the new location, she was a mess. She was visibly and audibly broken. She panhooted constantly in stress. She wouldn’t eat, she was not comforted by my presence at all. And who can blame her. All she wanted was to go back home to the family she had built and loved so dearly for decades. 

Back in the UK, for weeks after the separation, her son cried. He screamed for his mother. But she was thousands of miles away, screaming for him.

Zoos claim to exist for conservation purposes, and even if that were true (which there is no evidence of) it absolutely does not take into account the suffering that individual animals must endure at the hands of this oppressive and cruel industry.


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