As much as we like to think that zoos are great “educational” tools that promote the importance of wildlife “conservation,” the reality is these facilities are mostly made for our own paltry entertainment. Taking wild animals from their natural habitat and placing them in unnatural enclosures where they will never be able to express their instincts causes an enormous amount of harm to these individuals.
The frustration and boredom that these animals experience in captivity often lead to zoochosis, a form of mental illness that is shown through stereotypic behaviors. These behaviors are monotonous, repetitive actions that serve no apparent purpose, such as pacing, head bobbing, or rocking back and forth. Self-mutilation and overgrooming are also signs of deep emotional distress in animals. It is estimated that two-thirds of zoo elephants and 85 percent of captive polar bears exhibit stereotypic behaviors
Zoos claim that they keep animals as part of efforts to “save the species,” but unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Most zoos never release their animals to their natural habitat, enabling them to contribute to wild populations, but rather they selectively breed, sell, or euthanize the animals in their care – as they see fit. Luckily, as more people become aware of the negative aspects of zoo captivity, they are starting to take action, boycotting zoos and advocating to protect natural habitats instead.
As a result of this growing awareness, many zoo animals are being rescued from life in their enclosures in favor of an existence in wild animal sanctuaries. In sanctuaries, animals are not put on display for the purpose of having humans stare at them, but given the space and environment they need to thrive. These five stories are just a few of the many happy endings for animals which prove that there is, in fact, life after the zoo.
1. Iris the Chimpanzee
Iris the Chimpanzee spent 16 years living in a dark and dirty enclosure at the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Georgia. Things weren’t too bad at first. She lived with her mother and other chimpanzees for the first several years here, but by 2012, they all died, leaving poor Iris all alone. Without her mother and other companions, Iris quickly descended into a deep depression. Luckily, thanks to the efforts of PETA, in March 2015, Iris was relocated to Save the Chimps Sanctuary in Florida. Now, Iris gets to live out her final years in peace and comfort, surrounded by other chimps that she loves. Instead of being cooped up in a dark enclosure, Iris can explore the island and enjoy her freedom. On behalf of Iris, make a donation to the wonderful sanctuary that saved her to help other chimps like Iris.
2. Sinbab the Lion
Sinbab the Lion has spent most of his life exploited by humans, used as a photographer’s prop in a restaurant and then as an attraction at Bacau Zoo in Romania. Cramped in a tiny, concrete cage with only a car tire and an old log for entertainment, Sinbab was miserable. Because of his unnatural beginning, Sinbab never grew properly and is only half the size of a normal adult lion. In July 2007, Sinbab’s suffering finally came to an end thanks to the Born Free Foundation. He now lives at their Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa, where he’ll receive all the care, attention, comfort and love he deserves. Help ensure he continues getting all the food and care he needs by ‘’virtually’’ adopting Sinbab here.
3. Fifi the Bear
Fifi, a brown bear, spent her first ten years performing silly tricks for visitors at a Pennsylvania Roadside Zoo. When the zoo closed, Fifi was left behind in her tiny, barren cage. For the next two decades, Fifi and three other bears were locked in their cells at the abandoned attraction, with next to no care or attention. Finally, after thirty years of misery, Fifi’s owner gave the bears up and PETA leapt to the rescue. Fifi, with her painfully thin frame, sunken eyes, and ragged coat, barely resembled a bear. She looked so lost and weak. According to experts she and the other bears also displayed stereotypic behavior, an indication of poor psychological health. Fifi had also never had the chance to hibernate – a natural ritual for bears. While the rescue team wasn’t sure whether the 32-year-old bear would make it, they relocated her to the Wild Animal Sanctuary’s Colorado Reserve. Within a matter of months, a proper diet, enrichment, companionship and lots of space, the once-ailing bear made a full recovery. For the first time in her life, Fifi is happy. To help take care of Fifi and the wild animals, make a donation to this fantastic sanctuary.
4. Thika the Elephant
After spending years in a tiny enclosure that lacked natural conditions and an inadequate climate at the Toronto Zoo, Thika finally found refuge at the PAWS ARK 2000 Sanctuary in California. Instead of concrete floors and gawking visitors, Thika now has wide-open fields, lots of trees, and other elephants to keep her company. She arrived at the sanctuary with two other elephants from the Toronto Zoo, Iringa and Toka, in 2013. These incredibly emotional and intelligent animals have spent the last couple of years thriving in their new home. Sadly, Iringa passed away last year but at least she got to spend a year receiving all the love, care, and freedom she deserved. According to the co-founder of the sanctuary, Ed Stewart, Thika is the most active elephant.
“Thika is up and down the hills all over the habitat,’’ he said. “The steepest hills up to the far reaches of the enclosures, and down in the trees. Sometimes we have to go find her; we don’t even know where she wound up.”
For the first time in almost 40 years, Thika can express herself as a real and true elephant. Send the PAWS Sanctuary a donation to support their amazing work.
5. Ndume the Gorilla
Ndume the gorilla spent the first ten years of his life at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio, where he was hand-raised. During his time at Cincinnati, Ndume started to exhibit stereotypic behaviors such as flinging feces and regurgitating his food. He was moved to the Brookfield Zoo and demonstrated the same aberrant behaviors. In 1991, Ndume was transferred to the Gorilla Foundation in California where he is given all the care, love and attention he needs. It is likely the zoo would have euthanized Ndume had it not been for the Gorilla Foundation stepping in to take him. Little is written about Ndume’s life, but what we do know is that it wasn’t natural. In fact, because he was born and raised in a zoo by humans, Ndume seems to have a lot of psychological problems. The team at the Gorilla Foundation is helping him to overcome these behaviors, if they can. Show your appreciation to the foundation by sending them a donation.
How to Give Other Zoo Animals Happy Endings
If only all zoo animals could get the same happy ending. Unfortunately, few do. If you would like to help get more animals in similar positions freed, the best things you can do are:
- Steer clear of zoos. When you pay for a ticket, you pay for an animal’s suffering. Remember, most cruel industries are born and thrive from demand. Without the demand, these horrible industries would not exist.
- Write a letter of complaint.If you see an animal living in dire conditions at a zoo, write a letter of complaint to the zoo owners and the local authorities.
- Share this article and help make others aware of how wonderful and right it is for animals to have their freedom and that living in captivity is not – and never – beneficial to them.
Lead image source: PAWS/Facebook