Animal Captivity in Zoos: Is it Worth it?

By Andrea McQuality

Photo Credit and Captions by Devin Gamache



A Trip to the San Diego Zoo

Click on photos for captions and to zoom in


Have you ever seen an elephant walking down the streets of Redford?  How about a giraffe chomping on leaves in your backyard tree?

Of course not.  For most of us, the only chance we can see animals like that up close is to visit a zoo.

According to AZA (The Association of Zoos and Aquariums), approximately 175 million people visit a zoo per year. Zoos are not just a place for children; teens and adults visit zoos as well.  With so many different animals all over the world, zoos are a place for them to be in one spot because many people can’t travel all over the world to see them. If it weren’t for zoos, many people wouldn’t get to see real, live animals from around the world; they would just see them on t.v., magazines, and the internet.

Although it is said to be an educational benefit, some studies find that zoos have many more disadvantages than educational advantages.

A research paper in Conservation Biology found that after interviewing over 2,800  children, 62% showed no indication of learning new information just by seeing them at a zoo.

Although zoos provide a venue for people to see many animals, some may ask what is best for the animals themselves.    Zoo animals are severely affected by being in cages instead of in the wild:

  • Zoo captivity can lead to stereotypic behavior, which is a behavior that is repetitive and doesn’t serve any purpose, such as lions pacing or over grooming themselves.
  • Also, the captivity causes stress and illness among the animals. Some have been split from their families, which can lead to further suffering. Imagine being split from your family and environment, in which you have lived in all your life. All of this suffering can lead the animals to try and actually commit suicide; they yearn for their ‘real’ life back.
  • Zoos also participate in captive breeding. This may decrease the risk for extinction in some species, but most often zoos don’t put these animals back in their natural habitat. They sell them to other zoos, circuses, and ranches. This doesn’t help their risk of extinction if they are not put back in their environment. 

Sea World is a popular tourist attraction for people and says that the animals spark children’s curiosity.

“These animals can inspire kids. We love the animals we’re working with,” said their spokesperson.

Although Sea World is again a place where visitors can see animals that they may not see anywhere else, it still affects the animals. Whales, dolphins, and the many other aquatic animals at Sea World  are not used to being in a limited amount of swimming space. This is drastically different than a big, open ocean.

Animals must perform tricks or stunts that they wouldn’t normally do if they were in their natural living environment.

Lori Marino, from Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, said that “There is no current evidence, from well controlled studies in the peer reviewed literature supporting the argument that captive animal displays are educational or promote conservation in any meaningful sense.”

All in all, animal captivity does not have enough benefits to warrant its continuation.  The organization Animal Equality says that “it only teaches children dangerous lessons. It teaches them that humans have the right to enslave animals, and it shows them how ‘captive’ animals act. They don’t actually get to see how the animal acts in real life.”