23rd November 2022

This time of year the pressure of Christmas shopping is mounting. Everybody wants to give their loved ones something thoughtful, unique, and memorable. For animal lovers, many people may see the targeted advertisements on social media for “zoo experience days” and think that they tick all the boxes. But, there is a darker side to the zoo industry that you won’t see in the adverts circulated by the likes of Wowcher, Red Letter Days, and Virgin Experience Days.

What’s wrong with zoo experience days?
“Meet the Meerkats”, “Zookeeper for a Day”, or “Feed the Capybaras” may all sound like delightful days out for your loved ones, but the truth behind the gift is far from it. Animals do not belong in zoos. They belong in the wild, or where that isn’t possible they deserve sanctuaries that recreate their wild environment as closely as possible, do not breed a new generation of imprisoned animals, and where possible seek to reintroduce their animals to their natural habitats quickly and safely. To take animals from the wild and to breed animals in captivity, only to profit by selling access to them is cruel and exploitative, and to go beyond this to allow members of the public to manhandle the animals is a shameful abuse of those animals.

What do zoo experience days fund?

From between £40-£100 an uninformed person can purchase close access to a captive wild animal at a number of venues across the UK. This can include feeding and handling of animals who get no choice in their participation in the experience. This money goes into the pockets of the zoo who will invariably claim it will be used to care for their animals. However, frequently when we have investigated zoos we have discovered very little evidence of this ‘care’. Virgin Experience Days is currently selling 24 animal experience days at South Lakes Safari Zoo alone. This is despite the zoo’s enduring record of being a demonstrably awful environment for animals. We at Freedom for Animals have been monitoring this facility’s failures for years, and crying out to the authorities to intervene to prevent further suffering, but within this broken system our cries have been falling on deaf ears, and Virgin Experience Days is now effectively fundraising to keep this exploitative and neglectful business running.

When you purchase one of these Zoo Experience Days you are not necessarily funding the care of the animals in the facility, you are fuelling an industry that perpetuates misery and suffering for the animals they claim to be looking after.

Is it dangerous?

Animal experience days sell themselves by offering an up close and personal encounter with a wild animal. The keepers attending will always give safety briefings, but the truth is that wild animals are unpredictable, particularly when being kept in unnatural and stressful captive environments. Just last week a tiger under the care of keepers at Knowsley Safari Park was killed when mixed with another tiger for breeding. This same zoo sells a tiger encounter package - can they really be trusted to keep attendees safe?

If not at zoos, where can I treat someone to an animal experience?

The UK has plenty of wildlife that is still exactly that - wild. You can find foxes, deer, and incredibly diverse birdlife across the UK, completely for free, if you do some research on where to look. If you have a few pounds to spend you can also experience animals in the wild with trips to observe the likes of whales, seals, and puffins, such as those offered in Northumberland. You will learn much more about an animal by seeing them in their own habitat than you ever would by visiting them in a captive environment that doesn’t allow them to display any of their natural behaviours. Where animals can’t live in the wild because they have already been subjected to the harmful effects of captivity, there are sanctuaries across the UK and beyond that you can visit, and if you really want that hands-on experience, many of them are crying out for help. In volunteering your time you will spend no money, and get a much more rewarding experience than you ever could at a miserable zoo experience.

You can even visit more exotic species in a caring and responsible environment right here in the UK at the likes of Wild Futures, The Monkey Sanctuary, where 40 monkeys rescued from sad starts in life are recovering in an environment that supports their needs, whilst the organisation  also supports work to maintain wild habitats. UK sanctuaries don’t house all the species that the zoo industry does, but that’s for a very good reason. Those wild animals shouldn’t be in this country, but back in the plains, rainforests, or tundras that are their true homes.

To expect this planet’s rich tapestry of wonderful, vibrant animal life to be caged, packaged, and delivered to your doorstep is unfair, but that is exactly the business model of zoos and aquariums. 

Don’t fund the industries that treat animals like commodities and do not provide for their basic needs. Don’t buy zoo experiences as gifts this Christmas. Don’t give the gift of misery.

- 23rd November 2022