Are zoos bad for animals?  

Zoos in the UK hold tens of thousands of animals captive. Many are suffering in silence, their misery unseen despite the thousands of people who peer in at them everyday. Zoos which exploit animals can never be ethical. Read on to find out why animals should not be kept in zoos.

Artificial environments

Zoos cannot begin to provide the amount of space animals have in the wild. Tigers and lions have around 18,000 times less space in zoos than they would in the wild. Polar bears have one million times less space.

It is not unusual to see jungles, deserts or icebergs painted onto the walls of enclosures that hold wild animals. These attempts to make the enclosures look natural are for the public’s benefits only - the animals are not fooled, they know they are not in the wild.

Animal suffering

In our investigation work we have documented animal suffering time and time again. Animals living in cramped conditions, sick or dead animals on display, animals living in dirty enclosures with nothing to do.

It is not uncommon to see tigers and lions pacing up and down, over and over again at the window of their enclosure. Or elephants swaying their heads from side to side as they stand rooted to the spot. These ‘stereotypic behaviours’ are a sign of mental distress, brought on by captivity.

Over 500 animals died at South Lakes Safari zoo due to neglect and human error. Animals had died from exposure, emaciation, hypothermia and had even been run over by cars. This zoo was allowed to remain open by local authorities.

Zoos kill healthy animals

Healthy animals in zoos are intentionally killed when they are no longer wanted. Lion cubs at Longleat Safari Park were killed after the zoo let inbreeding get out of control. The zoo admitted they bred too many to make sure there were always cute babies on display. Marius the giraffe was killed and publicly dissected at Copenhagen Zoo, after the zoo said he didn’t have the right genes for breeding.

Zoos refuse to inform the public how many animals are killed in zoos. Estimates suggest ten thousand large mammals are killed each year in European Zoos alone, never mind other animals.

Whilst we keep animals in captivity they risk being killed by the very people who put them there.

Zoos mutilate animals

Imagine being a bird and being able to fly. Tragically, birds in zoos are prevented from flight, one of the most natural behaviours. Not only are they kept in cages that restrict them, they are also physically mutilated by zoo staff. They have the ends of their wings chopped off with a blade - without any anesthetic - and they will never grow back.

Circus shows

Many zoos train animals to perform tricks as if they were in a circus. Performing sea lions, birds and elephants can be seen at many UK zoos.

Some training of elephants has been done using electric goads. We infiltrated a training session held at Blackpool Zoo in 1998 and filmed elephants being trained to lift their feet and head, hold sticks in their mouths and jabbed with elephant hooks in the shoulder and head.

Captivity for entertainment

Zoos are increasingly looking for more ways to make money. Many now hold festivals and ‘after-hours’ events which often feature live music, alcohol and even fireworks. Freedom for Animals exposed a festival at Port Lymphe Zoo where party goers threw objects at the animals. At an event at London Zoo revelling visitors reportedly poured beer over a tiger. At Bristol Zoo we caught staff stating animals were stressed by the loud noise caused by the event they were holding.

Conservation Con

Zoos try to justify the captivity of animals by claiming it is for conservation purposes. Yet in reality, the vast majority of animals held captive are not threatened in the wild. So why are they held captive?

Most zoos house a family of meerkats and even offer ‘experiences’ to meet them and people love to see the meerkat babies. Yet meerkats are not endangered so this breeding is carried out purely to provide entertainment.

Of the endangered animals that zoos do breed, most are brought into the world to keep the cages full. Very, very few animals make it back to the wild and even those that do, don’t always survive long enough.

Some zoos may donate to conservation projects abroad, but these donations make up a very small percentage of their income.

Zoo director David Hancocks said:

“There is a commonly held misconception that zoos are not only saving wild animals from extinction but also reintroducing them to their wild habitats. The confusion stems from many sources, all of them zoo-based… In reality, most zoos have had no contact of any kind with any reintroduction program.”

A licence to suffer

Public zoos in the UK must have a licence to operate. Most people think this law protects animals but we have revealed how the system is failing. Our research showed that zoo inspectors were not taking the right action when they were finding problems in zoos, meaning problems were allowed to go on. 75% of inspections found unsatisfactory issues that were not addressed.

What is Freedom for Animals doing?

We carry out undercover investigations exposing animal cruelty and exploitation.

We support protests at zoos raising awareness with the public.

We educate the public about zoos by speaking up for animals in the media, online and in person.

Read our 10 facts about zoos!