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I'm interested to know what the opinion for zoos is here at Animal Rights Zone.


Do they have a role to play in conservation, education?

Or are they just another way to exploit animals for humans entertainment.


Personally, I don't like the masses that go to the zoo. Animals are things to look and point at. To laugh at the funny things they do, and feel sorry for the ones that look sad. Plus it's only the exciting animals people, especially children want to see, before they run along to look at the next thing.

There are many wild animals in captivity that could have had a better life not to be. But there isn't much that can be done to change their situation, they probably wouldn't cope well in the wild. I think it's wrong to catch animals for collections, and wrong to breed animals that have no place there. Whether captive breeding helps with the conservation of endangered species I do not know.


Let me know what you guys think?

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a brief answer: animal exploitation ends when we no longer view animals as property. Animals are no more meant for our entertainment than they are meant for our consumption. Zoos are places to make money, they don't care for animals, who should be free in their natural habitat.

When a species is on the edge of extinction, it's because of men! so to try and save it afterwards seems quite hypocritical! Who are we to decide of everything on earth????

I agree, the animals in zoos will never come first, it's the customers that do. Enclosures are always set up so they look nice for the public, because they want to see that the animal is living in a replication of it's home environment but they are never designed with the idea of producing somewhere where the animal would be comfortable.

I always imagine myself in the position of zoo animals. I can not imagine what it must feel like to have endless crowds of people come stare at you as if you are a thing, and not somebody who can interact back. I reckon that some animals, especially the more self-aware such as the primates feel violated and as if they have lost their dignity. Maybe I am being too anthropomophic as my lecturers always tell me not to be.

Hi Sam,

Do you know that elephants can walk 50km per day when in their natural habitat? I've never seen a zoo able to accommodate the basic needs of any animals, let alone needs like those of an elephant, for example.

Some zoos also sell their animals to hunting associations  when they are either over crowded or old. These animals are usually used for "canned" hunting expediations -- a hunter hunts an animal in an enclosure, preventing escape.

Other animals are not ours to treat as we deem appropriate, or to use in any way. Zoos use other animals for entertainment to make money. It's not about education, it's about money for them.

Would we allow humans to be displayed and use "education" as an excuse? I think not.

It's great that you're asking these questions, Sam. I hope it helps! :)




Hi Sam, thanks for starting this useful discussion about zoos and those who are forced to live in them, and for asking such great questions.


I agree with all the points that you, Carolyn and blackpanther are making.

You question whether your lecturers may be right in their suggestion that you may be being too anthropomorphic. No, I'm sure you're not. The charge of anthropomorphism is is often made against those who strive for equal consideration of those who are not human. Recognising the moral right to life and liberty of all sentient beings has nothing to do with attributing human-like characteristics to those who aren't human. Unfortunately we still live in societies where most people do not seriously question and progress beyond their speciesist enculturation. The majority of people misunderstand or deny the moral necessity of respect for nonhumans. Many of those who hold speciesist views discount the egalitarian principles of respect for nonhumans, as being anthropomorphism. In so doing they exhibit their own anthropocentric speciesism.


With regards to this subject of zoos and those who are incarcerated there, I will offer excepts from Joan Dunayer's first book ANIMAL EQUALITY: Language and Liberation. I hope these excerpts may help to answer the great questions you are asking here. It seems to make sense to add them in the order they appear in the book, so I hope you will understand when not all of your questions are addressed in this first excerpt.


Freedom Denied: The Language of Zoos - by Joan Dunayer. Animal Equality: Language and Liberation Chapter 6, pages 73 -74.

The language of the [zoo] promoter is always suspect, often disingenuous. The word “habitat,” for example, has replaced “cage.”     - David Hancocks

Picture “a rectangular enclosure with bars in the front and back and chain link on the top” containinn two tigers. “Many people” would call this a cage, but that’s “inappropriate,” Gary Clarke stated while director of the Topeka Zoo; when referring to a cage in a zoo, people should say “home.” Connoting comfort and security, home signifies the place where one belongs. To call a zoo cage a nonhuman’s “home” naturalizes displacement and confinement. Like other speciesist institutions, zoos survive through verbal deception, including euphemism, false definition, and semantic reversal.

“Natural Habitats”

Zoos increasingly term all enclosures “habitats,” even “natural habitats.” The most manufactured environments bear names that evoke nature. The Bronx Zoo’s JungleWorld features fiberglass trees, concrete rocks, and plastic vines. Intending no irony, one zoo director has commented, “Technology is reaching higher levels. There’s an increasing public demand for natural environments.”

   While zoo visitors experience what the industry calls “habitat immersion,” the inmates experience exhibit imprisonment. Their worlds extend no farther than transparent plastic walls, invisible electrified wire, or scarcely perceptible mesh. “Cold concrete walls” surround the animals kept inside the Tropical Forest and Franklin Park Zoo (Boston).

   Beyond spectators’ view, conditions are worse. Hidden behind exhibits with expansive names like African Plains, you’ll find barred concrete cells.

   Among more than 2,000 licensed U.S. exhibitors of nonhuman animals, fewer than 9 percent have sought and received accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA). Most U.S. zoos comprise hellish confinement units incarcerating physically and psychologically deprived animals. Inmates usually are confined indoors ever night and throughout wintry weather. Typically, they spend sixteen hours a day in small, barren cells. Many – especially invertebrates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals confined behind glass – never go outside. Yes, as with enclosures, the language applied to exhibiting institutions suggests freedom and naturalness. Whilst keeping many birds in small cages, a Miami zoo calls itself Parrot Jungle and Gardens.

   In 1993 the New York Zoological Society changed its name to the Wildlife Conservation Society and asked the public to drop the word zoo because of negative connotations. Under the Society’s management the Central Park (Manhattan), Prospect Park (Brooklyn), and Queens Zoos have become Wildlife Centers. Whereas zoo evokes images of forcible displacement and confinement, wildlife center suggests a largely natural environment located within nonhumans’ native habitat. Only public resistance prevented a permanent change from Bronx Zoo to International Wildlife Conservation Park. The new name would have transformed urban imprisonment of individuals into global preservation of species.

The reason I asked Carolyn was because today I had a lesson focused on stereotypical behaviour in captive animals at zoos. Most stereotypical behaviours are displacement activities or coping strategies. Tigers, polar bears and other large-ranging animals pace the same route in their prison over and over. They're meant to spend their days walking, but how can they possibly do that. The same with the elephants. Lots of elephants in zoos sway, I believe this is a coping strategy, similar to that of rocking in depressed humans who are imprisoned (you know what I'm talking about?).

This whole lesson I was thinking, rather than trying to find ways to fix these unwanted behaviours why not prevent them existing in the first place. They are a clear indicator that nonhumans can not live happy, healthy lives in imprisonment. Animals with their freedom taken away are always going to exhibit these behaviours. Given the choice, everyone would prefer to be free, than to live in a confined space and have their eating and social interactions controlled.


I also thought the same Carolyn. If we could display humans in an exhibit to educate about and raise money for people living in poverty around the world, would we? Of course not. Although, interestingly, when zoos first started up they had "ethnological expositions" or "Negro Villages"


Thank you for sharing that Kate, it was interesting to read about the use of language to control the public's perception.

Thank you for your comments on anthropomorphism. I'm pretty sure animals can feel just the way I do, even if they can't attempt maths as poorly as I do :). If I was to be confined to a room, or even a house, I know I would get agitated and frustrated, go mad, and probably give up. I know the dogs I've lived with would also hate to be trapped inside even for a day. And other people know that too. Why they can't apply the same logic elsewhere I don't know. Maybe because the enclosures look lovely with their fake trees and waterfall, they look just like "home", of course the animal is happy to be there, they get food delivered every day, what a life of luxury. No.

In addition, I think that the arguments for an educational, research, and conservation role for zoos are pretty weak. Dale Jamieson's "Against Zoos" ( sums up the issues nicely. The evidence suggests that zoos don't educate and they play virtually no role in conservation and most of their research is done in the wild anyway. More educational benefit comes form studying and filming animals in the wild than showing them in captivity.


I'd think that any captive environment that can't allow an animal to act on the majority of its natural desires, or which isn't in the animal's best interests is prima facie wrong whatever the reason. None of the reasons that are given to justify zoos (entertainment, conservation, research, and education) out-weigh this as far as anyone has shown. Whether under some circumstances conservation might provide a reason for captivity is an interesting question. This raises, at least, one interesting question--if our only choice is to keep a few last members of a species in captivity (in a sanctuary perhaps) or let the species go extinct, which should it be? As I understand it, we might well face this choice with some of the Great Apes during this century.


We have a Sealife Centre here in Brighton. It is an absolute s..t hole. It was built in 1875 and the original tanks still house animals. It is hard to believe, but there are no legal requirements regarding minimum cage/tank sizes. In the 80's (sorry to harp on about the 80's) there were 2 dolphins kept there, (although it was the 'Dolphinarium' then). They had been incarcerated there for 21 and 17 years respectively and had 8 babies, all of which died. We campaigned vigorously and had a presence outside every single day, convincing people to not go in. We almost made them bankrupt. Unfortunately on a wet day in Brighton, families pour in the SLC, if we are outside we turn many people way. Funnily enough the children are more altruistic than the adults and appreciate what it must be like for the animals to live in barren tanks. SLC is owned by Blackstone, the second biggest entertainment organisation, just slightly smaller than the Disney empire. They are effectively untouchable. We have asked various big organisations to help us produce education material to put into local schools, ALL of which visit the SLC, they are not interested. I went to Africa a few years ago and we went to see some 'Masai' people. Many of these people appeared to live in 'moth balls' and were only brought out donned in their traditional costumes for the benefit of we tourists, it was quite uncomfortable and quite similar to keeping animals just for the 'spectacle'
I forgot to mention that in order for a zoo or an aquarium to have a licence they most be involved in conservation (joke) and provide education about the animals they exhibit. Even a sign on a tank containing fish, which says 'fish' is regarded as education!!!

Completely agree, Sam. That's the irony of zoos classing themselves as educational facilities - the behaviour displayed by almost all animals is far from natural behaviour, and can hardly be seen as education by any stretch of the imaginitaion. 

Thank you for that article. I hadn't even considered what they did with their excess "stock". At it's roots zoos and farms are not much different. Animals are a commodity in both.
I think we're all in agreement that they are not the best places but I think a lot of zoo keepers have good intentions. What can or should be done for the animals who are in zoos right now?

our local zoo, the minnesota zoo, sends its  "petting zoo" captives to livestock auction for slaughter, after they're done being "petted."  for me, this pretty much sums up what zoos are all about.  i don't think that "good intention" is really a factor here.

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