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Toronto zoo elephants head to sunny California and Costa Rica permanently closes its zoos. What’s going on here? Why the sudden shift from holding wild animals captive to freeing them? Perhaps it’s because of one, or several, of the following reasons.

1. The Cost of Capture

As depicted in the scathing documentary “Blackfish,” capturing orcas comes at a huge cost — the death of several orcas and the permanent destruction a family. Another more recent capture left two orcas dead and separated the others from their families, forever.

2. Zoo Animals Live in Cages

Zoo animals are robbed of their right to exist naturally. Their lives are not their own and they are prevented from fulfilling basic needs such as hunting, grazing, roaming, and developing important social structures.

3. Not All Zoos Are Created Equal

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), only 10 percent of the 2,000 menageries in the U.S. are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The AZA is not without limitations though, for example, SeaWorld is on its accredited list.

4. Many Animal Sanctuaries Aren’t Actually Sanctuaries

Many of these countrywide menageries claim to be sanctuaries for rescued wildlife. This is can be very misleading to its visitors. If a sanctuary breeds animals outside of conservation efforts, it isn’t a sanctuary. True rehabilitation centers and sanctuaries should never breed animals for display. So instead of supporting these types of operations, here is a list of 10 real and amazing animal sanctuaries to support instead.

5. Wild Animals Are Wild

Recently, a zookeeper in Missouri was killed when he was knocked to the ground by an elephant. He died instantly. The orca featured in the film “Blackfish,” is responsible for three deaths. Wild animals, despite being wondrous and beautiful, can be dangerous in captivity.

6. Zoo Animals Escape

If a dangerous zoo animal escapes and cannot be captured, it is killed. Just this year, three wolves that escaped from a zoo in the U.K. were shot dead when authorities were unable to recapture them. Also this year, a red panda escaped from the National Zoo. Luckily, tourists spotted the raccoon-like animal and it was returned to the zoo.

7. Unnatural Habitats

Flamingos in cold climates, polar bears in Argentina, and whales in bathtubs — these are hardly natural environments for animals. Flamingos develop problems with their feet in captivity, polar bears suffer in hot weather, and orcas are distressed in cramped pools. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these pictures are worth a thousand tears.

8. Bad Management Can Mean Death

At a so-called “Animal Park” in the affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C., an unwanted wallaby was drowned to death when the owner no longer wanted it. These types of unaccredited zoos are a large problem in the U.S. and they are easy to set up. A person can obtain an exhibitor license under the Animal Welfare Act, privately possess wild animals and establish a zoo.

9. Animals Often Die Prematurely in Zoos

Not all zoos have the ability, or proper training to care for the animals that they capture or breed. Recently, a lion in a Texas zoo killed a lioness, something that does not occur in the wild.

10. It’s Bad For Their Health

It isn’t just the dogs in the U.S. who are becoming overweight, it’s also zoo elephants. Not only are these elephants overweight, but they are also exhibiting specific behaviors that indicate mental distress as a result of captivity.

Alternatives to Zoos

Before you go, know the facts about the zoo, or sanctuary, that you plan to visit. If the environment looks dilapidated, or the animals look sick, take pictures and make a complaint to the management. You can also file a complaint with the USDA. (There are over 15,000 facilities in the U.S. that keep animals, but there are less than 150 USDA inspectors.)

The American Sanctuary Association (ASA) provides a list of accredited sanctuaries to visit or volunteer with. In addition to the ASA, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) also has a list of accredited sanctuaries.

Alternatively, there are other wonderful ways to experience wild animals such as scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, and bird watching. If you’re not sure where to get started, find a national park near you.

Ultimately, animals do not belong in cages, or behind concrete walls. No matter how brightly a wall is painted, or how large a cage is, a zoo environment cannot compare to an animal’s wild habitat.

Image Source: Max Borge/Flickr

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25 comments on “10 Reasons to Skip Your Next Zoo Visit”

Click to add comment
Jenna Anne
3 Years Ago

where is god?

Emma ashford
25 Jan 2017


Elizabeth Collins
3 Years Ago

I don't have to see an animal in person to know that it's worthy of life. Plenty of great videos and written stories about the marvels of life on Earth. And more than that: If zoos and their visitors put their money into saving the animals' ecosystems we wouldn't need them to "conserve" any species.

Kimberly Webb
3 Years Ago

The Cincinnati Zoo is leading in conservation efforts, and has helped Indonesia's native Sumatran rhinoceros population. It also releases manatees back into the wild after rehabilitation... Not all zoos are bad (:

03 Apr 2014

Well, actually the Cincinnati Zoo also supports the breeding of white tigers, which should be banned. White tigers are inbred. Look up throw away cubs, the white tigers we see that are considered healthy, took about 30 stillborn or deformed white cubs to get the ONE you see in zoos. Look up the heath problems for a white tiger. NOTE: I am not saying that we need to kill them or anything like that, I am saying let them die out and focus on breeding of healthy Bengal tigers. White tigers, even without the health problems, are not meant for snowy climates, the Bengal tigers. If a white tiger was let out in the wild they would die, simply because they can not stalk their pray, and they are not built to chase they food.

Julie Jules
3 Years Ago

Blessings to ALL Mother Earth's children; for ALL Beings to LIVE Freely, Compassionately, Joyfully, Lovingly, Harmoniously & Sustainably with Abundance for All Now & Forever. Much love to All in All directions! I pray for ALL humanities enlightenment! Feeling Grateful for our Mothers love today & everyday! <3<3<3

Julia Colterjohn
3 Years Ago

Unfortunately their natural environment is disappearing worldwide and many animals in "zoos" are rescued and would die otherwise. The best "zoos" today are not zoos in the old-fashioned sense and I support them as long as they support conservation!

Melissa Duarte
10 Dec 2013

Pretty hard to see a beautiful, majestic tiger, pacing around and around his cage!! Zoos are a greed made, pretending to do good for the welfare of the voiceless.

Ginger Goslin
3 Years Ago

boycott zoos! We do not need them! No animal should be confined. They should be free in their naturall environment.

Melissa Duarte
10 Dec 2013

Thanks Ginger, we need to speak for the voiceless without choices, no zoos, no circuses, they use these poor creatures for Greed corporations.

Kathy Marsh
3 Years Ago

That's Sea World!

Kathy Marsh
3 Years Ago

I'm speaking of zoos BTW; dislike circuses, seaward.

Kathy Marsh
3 Years Ago

I believe people are more likely to care about a species and want to help with conservation if they see how beautiful the animals are in person.

Flo Stash
3 Years Ago

I am wondering what would happen to zoo animals if we left all the gates open to free them. What would happen to the meercats, sloths, binturogs, okapis, camels, hyraxes, fossas, snakes etc? Are there available sanctuaries for these varied and vast numbers of animals to live without killing each other as they do in the wild? I am wondering who will pay the multi millions of dollars to have all the exotic animals transported to sanctuaries. If people refuse to pay to visit zoos, where will the money come to feed the animals currently residing there? Although freeing these exotic animals sounds great, the practical side is daunting. As for wild animal circuses, the sooner they close the better.


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