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The recent birth of Dobby, a baby giraffe at the Denver Zoo in Colorado, and the live stream of a pregnant giraffe named April at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York have been making headlines and filling our social media feeds. People are obsessed, sharing photos of adorable Dobby and wondering when April will finally give birth. And while we all certainly love baby animals and are in awe of the miracle of birth, there’s something rather sad about these stories. Because instead of watching these animals enjoy a sprawling natural habitat, we’re watching them from behind glass, fences and indoor enclosures.

Giraffes are the world’s tallest mammals, reaching a height anywhere from 14 to 19 feet and weighing up to 2,800 pounds. A gentle and social creature, giraffes live in small herds and can be found throughout the central, eastern, and southern portions of Africa. Their height allows them to feast on leaves from tall trees, and their long legs help them reach speeds anywhere from 10 to 35 miles per hour.

It’s no wonder people find them impressive and want to see these magnificent creatures in person. But for giraffes in captivity, life isn’t quite the same as their wild counterparts. Instead of days consisting of roaming freely, socializing, and enjoying a variety of foliage, they’re placed on display in unnatural environments where they’re unable to exhibit all of their natural behaviors.

Life in Captivity Isn’t a Life

When talking about captivity, it’s important to understand the difference between rescuing animals and taking them to a sanctuary or wildlife refuge and keeping them in a zoo. Sanctuaries exist to protect animals who have been injured, kept as a wild pet, or rescued from defunct zoos or roadside attractions. As a result of their prior life, they are unable to be returned to the wild so a sanctuary is the only option. Wildlife refuges exist to protect animals living in their natural habitat. Both share a common goal of rehabilitating and protecting wildlife.

Zoos display animals for entertainment purposes and often participate in breeding programs, allowing the cycle of captivity to continue. Even accredited zoos that strive for top-notch care and provide animals with room to roam aren’t giving animals what they truly deserve: a life of freedom.

The most heartbreaking impact of life in captivity is when animals begin to suffer from zoochosis, a condition where they exhibit compulsive behaviors as a result of environmental stress. Symptoms of zoochosis include pacing, circling, swaying back and forth, self-mutilation, excessive grooming, and excessive chewing or biting. Those who are unfamiliar with the condition might think an animal dancing around is being cute, but that’s not the case. And when an animal is stressed, they become a danger to themselves, as well as others.

Dangerous Encounters

In zoos, animals can be placed in danger when people try to interact with them, feed them, taunt them or throw unsafe items into their enclosure. When humans try to get too close and the animal naturally reacts, that animal often ends up being killed. One example is the sad case where a gorilla named Harambe was shot by zookeepers after a child fell into his enclosure. And there are countless other cases where captive animals been killed after attacking spectators or handlers who get too close.

The animals are trying to tell us something, but are we listening? Perhaps instead of practicing “conservation” efforts that keep animals caged in unnatural situations, we should place our focus on preserving their existence in the wild.

Focus on Habitat Preservation, Not Captive Breeding

Why the Birth of a Giraffe at the Denver Zoo Isn’t Something We Should Be Celebrating


Giraffes are listed as “vulnerable,” meaning they are only one step away from becoming an endangered species and facing extinction. Like countless other wild species, their habitat is being destroyed by fragmentation as a result of agriculture, construction, and development. In fact, the actions of humans are causing species to go into extinction at a rate 1,000 times faster than normal.

One of the misleading claims made by zoos is that breeding animals in captivity is part of conservation efforts, guaranteeing that the world’s species are around for future generations. We all know that animals, especially baby animals, help draw large crowds to zoos, so is the motivation really conservation — or is it profit?

How You Can Help

Why the Birth of a Giraffe at the Denver Zoo Isn’t Something We Should Be Celebrating


We can teach our children compassion by showing them that animals belong in the wild, not behind fences and concrete enclosures for our entertainment. Instead of spending money to visit a zoo, donate to an organization that’s working to protect animals and their habitats. If you still want to interact with animals, there are plenty of humane alternatives to visiting a zoo.

You can also protect habitats by being a conscious consumer. Purchase recycled paper products to help decrease deforestation, buy products made from sustainable resources, and avoid packaged foods that contain palm oil, a product that’s contributing to habitat fragmentation and threatening the existence of several species. And never buy products made from animal hides, horns, tusks or any other body part.

Lead image source: Yuli4kaSergeevna/Shutterstock

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10 comments on “Why the Birth of a Giraffe at the Denver Zoo Isn’t Something We Should Be Celebrating”

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Anny Seavey
1 Years Ago

I agree that zoos that don\'t mimic nature insofar as having a lot of freedom to move around is sad. However, at the rate trophy hunters as well as custom of giving a Giraffe tail to your prospective father in law to win your wife custom have almost decimated giraffes in the wild, the species may actually be saved because of Zoos work to make zoos bigger

Cenk Tekin
1 Years Ago

It is a thing to be celebrated because "if it isn\'t in the wild it should be extinct" mindset is hideous. Yes we should make transition towards sanctuary like facilities, but realism is needed. The habitat destruction isn\'t going to be easily reversed at all.

Also thank you for once again being dishonest snake-oil sellers Arianna and OGP.

1 Years Ago

Dobby would be dead if born in the wild.

1 Years Ago

since capelle mom was on homonal birth control, has anyone determined any effects of this on the baby

Vasu Murti
1 Years Ago

I took a stand against zoos in a letter to the editor of my local newspaper, the Tri-Valley Herald, in March 1992, which they entitled "Equal Rights for Animals."

Giraffe conservationist in Kenya
1 Years Ago

I am LIVID because you are so awfully ignorant. It is not an either/or argument. If you were to ask ANY giraffe keeper whether they believe giraffes belong in zoo\'s or the wild, they would all respond that they belong in the wild. We don\'t live in that perfect world where giraffes aren\'t poached, and humans aren\'t destroying their habitat.

Just FYI - the director of Giraffe Conservation International works for a zoo in Europe. The leaders in giraffe conservation in the field are also working in zoo \'conservation\'. Your anger is misguided and harmful to the actual work being done to conserve wild giraffe populations - you are missing the point. Zoo\'s are doing more for giraffe conservation than any other institution. No animal deserves life in a cage, and zoo\'s are working tirelessly to make sure wild animals stay wild you prick.

1 Years Ago

Good point about life in a cage vs life in the wild. As an American who has lived in Africa 20 years, however, I\'ve seen how difficult it is to protect this beautiful animal. Giraffes are regularly poached about 50 miles from my African home. Corruption contributes (law enforcement ignores the atrocity for a bribe). The reckless violence of poachers. Two expat anti-poaching aquaintances have been killed on the job over the past 4 years. So yes, we need to increase measures to protect these amazing animals from being poached. But anti-poaching gets VERY complicated on the ground. So to me, the birth of any giraffe - in the wild, or in a secure, albeit caged environment, is cause to celebrate . . .

14 Mar 2017

When I was born there were 2 billion people on the planet. That has more than tripled. So, to me, the birth of another human baby is no cause to celebrate.

The Population Reference Bureau estimates that 237,211 more people are added to the planet every day as every second worldwide, five people are born and two people die, leaving three more humans to infest Earth. Human population growth is the single largest threat to animal life. Wherever and whenever human population growth expands and competes with other animals for resources, the other animals are "culled" to reduce THEIR population! NOT FAIR!

As for the giraffes, most of the world\'s population growth is taking place throughout Africa (and India).

16 Mar 2017

Carol, does this mean you won\'t be having children? I would hate for someone as passionate as you to go against your beliefs and reproduce.

16 Mar 2017

Lisa I agree!! Carol, ANY birth, human especially is to be celebrated. What a miracle - whether planned or not planned. So when you were born there were 2 billion people. So you and I should not have been born, we will no longer celebrate birth in the world? Yes there are so many births a year that are not celebrated, but there are so many more that are celebrated. We will never change that.
We need to be so thankful for a baby, for a new life. What an incredibly sad point of view your have. This giraffe birth was not known and was not planned. The mother giraffe was on birth control! So you can say maybe the zoo keepers were irresponsible, or didn\'t know what they were doing. I totally disagree. This giraffe was born, he came into the world unplanned. So what would you have done? Not tried to save this baby? Because it is better for him to die than live in captivity? This is such a beautiful animal and you tell me these animals do not have a good life. Yes they should be in the wild, absolutely! But this did not happen that way, and it was not planned to happen this way.

We are going to see this beautiful baby tomorrow, and we are going to celebrate his life.

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