Zoos are the problem, not the solution.

Emily Whitmire
4 min readDec 5, 2020

Have you ever been to prison? How do you think it may feel to be caged and lose your freedom? The prison experience is the nearest humankind can get to the experience animals have to go through when locked up in zoos.

Zoos Must be Replaced with Reintroduction Programs

Reintroduction programs are put in place to release animals back into their natural habitat to stabilize, establish, and increase a species' population or prevent extinction. Although reintroducing animals back into the wild, where they belong, is slow, challenging, and costly, it must be done due to issues zoos have inflicted on animals.

Why Keeping Animals in Zoos Is Bad for Their Welfare


To the left are some hard-hitting photos of zoo animals in isolation.

Zoos animals are deprived of their freedom and their full range of interests and needs. The animals have been documented to have stereotypical behaviors and disorders. If you are unfamiliar with what stereotypical behaviors are, they are abnormal behaviors that are invariant and repetitive. Animals exhibit them in captivity as a result of stress and anxiety. Four of the main behaviors that zoo animals show is over-grooming, self-mutilation, bar-biting, and pacing. When an animal over-grooms itself, they will normally focus on a particular limb; balding and painful rashes can start to appear due to the constant friction they are applying. When an animal begins to chew the bars of their confinement, they’re calling for help and want to escape. Pacing is most common in big cats. If you’ve ever been to a zoo, you must’ve seen an animal pacing back and forth. When this irregular pacing first occurs, the animal can be easily distracted by various noises and visuals, but they can not break their focus after some time. They fall into a trance. A study conducted by One Green Planet Organization showed that lions in captivity spend 48 percent of the day pacing back and forth; in contrast, lions in the wild spend at least 20 hours per day resting. This is a vast comparison and only shows the toll zoos have on animals' physical and mental health.

Have you ever wondered how much less space zoo animals have than if they were in the wild? The Freedom for Animals Organization calculated this and have concluded that lions and tigers have 18,000 times less space and polar bears have one million times less space. That’s beyond unimaginable and shocking. Zoo animals don’t provide sufficient space for the animals,, and this leads to discontent. To understand the animal’s point of view, think about the quarantine that we went through. Over some time staying home and not going out, people became stressed, irritated, and depressed. How do you think zoo animals must feel when they are captured from their natural habitat and forced to spend their lives in a cage that doesn’t compare to the complex environment they once lived in. This is less room to run, hunt, play, and rest. The animals have no say in what happens to them, and most of them haven’t even experience life in the wild because they were born in the zoo. The animals soon develop behaviors and disorders, as previously mentioned. Zoos even turn to antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and tranquiliziers in an attempt to relieve the animals’ mental state. The animals go through unnecessary stress, trauma, and low quality of life, all for the sake of entertainment to humans and revenue for the zoos.

Lastly, zoos justify captivity by saying they educate the public when they do not. Most visitors do not retain any knowledge and simply look at the animals for pleasure and entertainment. A study was conducted by British sociologists that wanted to dig deeper into if children gain any knowledge from visiting the zoo. After the data was gathered, the researchers discovered that 59 percent of the children could not contribute any educational feedback. Without a tour guide with them, 66 percent of the children didn’t learn anything. Wildlife documenatires are more educational than zoos, and they don’t take away freedom from animals. Would it not make sense for one to think it is best to study animals in their natural habitat, where they can be themselves? Ponder about this; you can earn a degree in paleontology without seeing living dinosaurs. If paleontologists can do it, so can wildlife biologists or any other area that involves studying animals. The demand for animals in the entertainment industry is so high and it’s cruel that they are used and abused for people’s entertainment and profit.

All in All…

Most people do not think about the issues animals in captivity have inflicted on them, from developing disorders and stereotypical behaviors, or the limited space animals have in captivity. Most justify these side-effects for the purpose and pursuit of education. There comes a time when we cross the thresh-hold, from education, into a more cynical purpose. Surely the effects of captivity on animals should out-weigh the consensus most people have, which is education and entertainment. How are we to instill the knowledge of animals meant to be in the wild if their behavior changes once in captivity? Let alone the numerous disorders they can develop, altering their personality, as well as their mental health. We learn best from wild animals when they are in their natural habitat, capable of following their instincts without worry — keeping them out of prison, designed for entertainment and revenue. Reintroduction programs should be instilled in replacement of zoos because animals belong in the wild where they can be their natural selves.