There are very few, if any, wild animals that thrive in captivity. As we continue to learn more about the species in zoological facilities, the clearer it becomes that most zoos aren’t capable of providing their animals with an environment that meets all of their needs. Critics would argue that the wild, for many species, has become an incredibly dangerous place (we can thank our own species for that). But even still, the dangers of habitat loss and poaching that many zoos spare their animals from doesn’t necessarily justify the suffering they experience in captivity.
One of the most traumatic experiences for animals in captivity is being stripped of the bonds they would form in the wild with their offspring and family. Makeshift families in captive settings are frequently reorganized by management; sudden changes like restructuring social groups often leads to aggression amongst the animals.
But above all, the animals that suffer most profoundly are those that are inherently social and are forced to live a life of solitude in captivity. These animals are a few among many that have been forced to live this lonely existence while in captivity.
Lolita has spent 44 years in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. She, along with other members of her pod, was rounded up and captured while they were swimming in the Puget Sound off the coast of Washington in 1970 when Lolita was just four years old.
Her first and only companion in captivity, Hugo, passed away 34 years ago from a brain hemorrhage after repeatedly bashing his head against the side of the pool. Understanding the complexity of orca whales means acknowledging how detrimental captivity is to their physical and psychological wellbeing. While many advocates have fought for Lolita’s freedom, she still remains at the Miami Seaquarium, indefinitely.
The Natural Bridge Zoo is notorious for being considered one of the worst zoos in the United States. Their lone elephant Asha, 32, has spent her life in captivity without any companionship from another elephant.
We know that elephants, like orcas, are incredibly social and intelligent. Elephants commonly exhibit stereotypic (or abnormal) behaviors in captivity such as random swaying and head bobbing. These behaviors serve no obvious goal or function and are believed to be characteristic of animals suffering from stress and anxiety.
Undercover investigations and inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have cited the Natural Bridge Zoo repeatedly for abuse and inhumane conditions. Employees at the zoo were discovered yielding bull hooks when working with Asha. Perhaps more traumatizing than anything else is the memory Asha most certainly has of the family she once knew.
While Morgan currently resides outside of the United States, she legally belongs to SeaWorld parks.
Morgan was found in 2010 off the coast of the Netherlands in poor condition. Initial recommendations were to have Morgan rehabilitated and released back into the wild with her family. Sadly, since her capture in 2010 Morgan has remained in captivity at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands. According to Dr. Ingrid Visser, Morgan has been repeatedly attacked by the other captive whales, including a male orca that Morgan has been left alone with. While she does technically have a “companion” it is hardly the sort of healthy interaction that an orca needs to thrive.
For years, animal welfare groups and protestors have pleaded with the San Antonio Zoo to retire Lucky, an Asian elephant who has been at the zoo since 1962. Being that Lucky is 54 years old, the zoo believes moving her to a sanctuary and being introduced to new elephants would be too stressful.
Management also insists that the swaying (a stereotypic behavior) displayed by Lucky is relatively normal, indicative of her anticipating her food or a bath.
Aside from being alone, Lucky is forced to cope with hundreds of visitors daily. In fact, guests commonly note that Lucky remains with her head against the wall and her back to the public, not until they have left her exhibit will she turn around.
Interestingly, the San Antonio Zoo publicly acknowledges that when Lucky passes away the exhibit will be completely reconstructed and improved to make way for a herd of African elephants. If nothing else, acknowledging the necessity for companionship and space needed for the future herd only further validates how poor Lucky’s quality of life in captivity is.
In 2006, the Bronx Zoo broke the news that they would be closing their elephant exhibit. That is, they would no longer replenish the herd. Unfortunately, the zoo chose to keep the remaining elephants instead of transferring them to a sanctuary.
Happy has resided at the Bronx Zoo since 1977. And for the past decade, she has been alone. Two of the companions Happy had during her time in captivity passed away. The Bronx zoo recognizes how important relationships are in elephant matriarchal society and yet they continue to deprive Happy of the company of other elephants by not retiring her to a sanctuary.
Hope for Other Animals
These five animals are hardly the only animals that are currently suffering in captivity, but the good news is that you have the incredible to help them by refusing to attend zoos or any other animal attraction. These facilities are driven solely by profit, and when people stop paying to see the captive animals, they will have no choice but to close to change their business model. Share the stories of these animals and encourage others to boycott animal attractions. No animal should have to suffer for the sake of our entertainment.
Lead image source: Wikimedia Commons