Are safari parks better than zoos? 

This is a question we get asked a lot at Freedom for Animals. As safari parks market themselves as more 'natural' by providing animals with more space, people can be confused about what life is like for the animals they keep captive. Here we cover some key reasons why in reality, safari parks are just as bad as zoos. 

1. Safari parks are zoos

First things first…. Safari parks in the UK are still zoos. Although sometimes offering larger enclosures to animals, safari parks are still zoos with the same issues and animal welfare problems. They still keep animals captive against their will. They still swap animals with other zoos. And it turns out they still force animals to live in restricted space. 

Woburn Safari Park was found to be keeping its lions locked into small enclosures for 18 hours a day. A government zoo inspection report said: “The animals were very crowded and there was no provision for individual feeding or sleeping areas. There was no visible environmental enrichment. Some of the lions exhibited skin wounds and multiple scars of various age, some fresh, some healed.

2. Safari park animals perform in ‘shows’

Many Safari Parks have ‘shows’ where animals are made to perform for the paying public. Tricks include sea lions balancing balls on their noses, ‘clapping’ their flippers and balancing on their flippers. At Knowsley, sea lions are made to swim and pretend they are sharks, for a noisy crowd to ‘guess the animal’. The crowd is encouraged to cheer as loud as possible whilst the sea lions leap from the water and hit a ball.

In late 2012, West Midland Safari Park was exposed for providing white lion cubs to a notorious circus animal trainer, who sent them to a travelling circus in Japan.

3. Safari parks kill healthy animals

As in all zoos, killing healthy animals is deemed an acceptable management tool in safari parks. Animals can be killed simply for not having the right genes or if the zoo has bred too many and cannot house them all.

Longleat Safari Park admitted it had killed lions and lion cubs in secret and had let lions breed out of control to ensure there was a ready-supply for the viewing public.

Dead animals were left to rot at Knowsley Safari Park for days, some of which had been intentionally killed by the park. A whistleblower came forward to Freedom for Animals concerned about how and why animals were dying at the park. 

4. Safari parks expose animals to after-hours parties

We went undercover at an ‘Ibiza Zoo Project dance festival’ held at Port Lympe Safari Park. Drugs and alcohol were taken openly around the zoo site. Visitors appeared clearly under the influence and some accessed restricted areas. Visitors were also seen throwing objects into the baboon enclosures and carp ponds and tormenting gorillas with sticks. 

Every year West Midlands Safari parks hosts a fireworks festival with bonfire and live music. They tried to defend their decision to expose wild animals to loud firework noises by stating in the wild a storm would be much louder. 

5. Safari parks breed animals despite cruelty warnings

West Midlands Safari park has long bred white lions for display. The white coat colour is caused by a recessive gene but these lions are still normal lions. In order to breed more lions of this colour, animals have been inbred. Inbreeding can lead to a number of disorders like skeletal deformities, immune system deficiencies, digestive problems and neurologic conditions. These animals do not need to bred for conservation yet are bred in captivity irresponsibly for entertainment value. 

Blair Drummond Safari Park decided to breed chimpanzees, despite warnings from experts around chimpanzee suffering in captivity.

Boycott all zoos, including safari parks

These are just some of the examples of how safari parks are just as bad as traditional zoos. In keeping animals captive, there is always a price to be paid... and sadly it is the animals who pay. 

Wild animals should be wild, free to experience all the complexities of their own lives. An individual living in the wild would be free to roam, in some animals cases they can travel for thousands of miles. They would be free to raise a family, forage, play, eat their natural foods and find a mate. They can go where they choose to when they want to.

When they are kept captive in safari parks, even though they may have a bit more space, all of this is denied to them.