Most of us who visited the zoo as children have great memories of days spent looking at animals that we would never see otherwise. On top of all of the mesmerizing wild beings, there are live shows, souvenirs to buy, junk food to eat, and cool photo opportunities. A day trip to the zoo is all fun and games for us visitors, but for the animals, zoo-captivity reduces their existence to a lifetime of loneliness in a concrete box. 

Having been plucked from the wild and put behind bars, zoo animals often live in misery, suffering from trauma, extreme boredom, isolation, and even mental illness. Zoos have gone to incredible lengths to manufacture an environment that might appear to resemble the wild, but these enclosures are barely a fraction of the space animals would have in their natural habitats.


Even though more people are becoming aware of the sad and desolate lives animals endure in captivity, there are still 181 million people who visit zoos every year. But what happens when all of the fanfare disappears? When we strip away all the color and noise, what is a zoo other than concrete walls and metal bars? When the people are long gone and the animals are just a memory, what is left to see? It is in these photos of abandoned and forgotten zoos, we can see these places for the jail cells they really are.

Hallie’s Zoo

zoo-michael_00058Michael Schwartz

Hallie’s Zoo was constructed in 1967 with hopes to attract people from all over Arkansas. Like most zoos, Hallie’s had a gift store, ice cream, and many different animals to see. Yet when we look at these haunting images we can imagine what it must have been like to be on the other side of the fence. Without all of the bells and whistles, you can see that the animals who lived here were never in a habitat like that of the wild. They were in prisons, plain and simple.

Stanley Park Zoo

polarbears collageCity of Vancouver Archives/Deborah Robertson



Stanley Park Zoo began in 1888 with the capture of a baby black bear, who was kept chained to a stump. In 1962, a concrete polar bear grotto was built and quickly became the main attraction for park-goers. It’s hard to believe that the now-empty pool was once the only area for four polar bears to swim and perform for the crowds from 1962 until 1996. Fortunately, when plans were discussed to upgrade the zoo, Vancouver voters chose instead to phase out the facility completely. We can only image how unnatural this space was for four large polar bears and the penguins that lived there. 

Glasgow Zoo

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 9.16.51 PMSkin – ubx

The Glasgow Zoo in Glasgow, Scotland had everything visitors could want in a zoo – lions, bears, reptiles, and birds. At its peak, it had more than 600 animals and about 140,000 visitors a year. In 2003, it was forced to close due to lack of finances and a long history of animal abuse allegations. Former workers alleged that pets given to the zoo were fed to the snakes and that rabbits were routinely killed by breaking their necks to be the prey. Monkeys were missing patches of hair which indicated compulsive grooming and the tigers were routinely walking the same paths over and over, both of which are known as symptoms of zoochosis, a common ailment of animals kept in captivity.


 The Griffith Zoo


Uncle Rhea 

The Griffith Zoo suffered from financial woes ever since it opened in 1914. The plan was to open a grand 500-acre park where the animals could roam free and visitors could view the animals on top of a hill, but the project fell apart and instead, the Griffith Zoo became a slipshod attraction, surrounded by multiple allegations of animal abuse, including charges of penguins being suffocated by chlorine fumes and monkeys being beaten by clubs.  Facing monetary difficulties and animal neglect allegations, the zoo was on its last limb by the 1950’s. In it’s final days, an article in the L.A. Times described a tragic incident, in which a polar bear named Ivan the Terrible attacked another polar bear:


“The two huge white bears battled savagely for nearly 80 minutes before several tranquilizing hypodermic needles-fired from a gun 50 feet across the grotto’s moat- were shot into Ivan’s lumbering bulk to take the fight out of him. High-pressure water hoses also were used to break up the battle. Police stood by with tear gas grenades,” the article stated.

Who knows how many of these violent attacks could have been avoided if these bears were able to escape the confines of the caves? Today Griffith Zoo is a popular destination for hikers and photographers, but it is difficult to visit without being affected by the skeletal remains of the past.

What Can You Do For Zoo Animals?

The most important thing we can do is teach our family and friends that the zoo is no place for an animal.  These stark images are a reminder that if you take away the fanfare of these attractions, what you are left with are concrete boxes and metal bars; that bear closer resemblance to a jail cell than a wildlife habitat. Share this article and help spread the word that life in a zoo is no life at all for an animal.

Featured image source: Uncle Rhea/Flickr