A leaked document has revealed how a major zoo industry body has proposed the killing of gorillas in it’s member zoos. The proposal formed part of plans by the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) on how to deal with the ‘overpopulation’ of male western lowland gorillas, bred into captivity by zoos. This gorilla species is critically endangered in the wild.


EAZA has member zoos across Europe and West Asia who hold over 463 individual western lowland gorillas captive. 212 of these are male. 

Zoo Conservation

This situation exposes (once again) the falsehood of zoo 'conservation'. These animals were bred into captivity intentionally. They are a result of the captive breeding programme managed by these zoos, that claims to exist to conserve this endangered species. Yet with horror, we hear now of how this programme has created too many unwanted males who now may face death. Healthy individuals who have no reason to die. 

To further debunk conservation claims, our research has shown that very few animals are ever released into the wild from zoos. In reality, endangered animals spend their lifetimes locked behind bars and glass walls providing entertainment for paying visitors. They will never see their wild homes. Another sad point is that there is very little land for these animals to go back to. Therefore breeding them to ‘exist’ only in zoos really is becoming the reality. Or we could put more resources into restoring their land and taking them home.

Cost of False Conservation

The percentage of funds donated to conservation projects is very low compared to what is spent on the running of zoos. Controversially, London Zoo spent £5 million building a new enclosure for the 5 gorillas they hold captive. Imagine what a difference £5 million could have made to in-situ conservation, to those working on the front lines to conserve habitats and species. 

"The proportion of the worldwide zoo industry’s multi-billion dollar budget that goes to in-situ conservation is tiny. To the wardens and rangers who put their lives on the line to protect gorillas in Africa, this must seem like the crumbs from a rich man’s table." 

Ian Redmond OBE, Biologist and Primatologist 

Other options proposed by EAZA include castration to prevent mating or reduce ‘aggression,’ or the keeping of male gorillas in solitary confinement. This is not the first time that castration has been used by the zoo industry as a tool for managing captive gorillas. Just like castrating a human, castration has a significant impact on the physiology of gorillas and other primates. Solitary confinement would be completely unnatural for these social individuals and no doubt would significantly impact on their mental health. 

If these are the extreme measures that need to be taken to keep animals captive, should we be doing it at all? 

This tragic situation has come about due to the choices made by those who wish to keep animals captive against their will. Keeping animals captive is not a benign act. Putting them in a completely unnatural situation does not allow them to live as they should. They do not have the space, social structures, and varied environment to meet their needs physically and mentally. Human actions have consequences, and tragically, these animals do suffer and may even die as a result.

How Many Animals Die in Breeding Programmes?

This situation raises further critical questions about other animals held captive in zoos. How many other species in ‘breeding programmes’ are being killed because there are now too many? The awful story of Marius the giraffe, who was killed because of ‘overpopulation’ and because he “didn’t have the right genetics”, is just one other example. Another is the tragic killing of lion cubs at Longleat Safari park, who overbred to make sure cubs were always on display for the public. 

Estimates have been made that anywhere from 1700 - 7500 individuals animals are killed in European zoos every year. 

This is the reality for the animals held captive in zoos across the world. This is why Freedom for Animals are calling for an end to zoo breeding programmes, and a phasing out of wild animal captivity.