For over ten years now, award-winning Canadian photojournalist, Jo-Anne McArthur, has used her photographs and words to encourage people of all ages and demographics to look at captive animals in a completely new way. With tragic stories like Harambe, the gorilla who was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo, making waves around the world, much of society has already started to rethink the ethics of keeping animals in captivity for our entertainment. The problem is, as with many issues in society, unless it is happening right in front of our faces, or we are able to get a closer view of the cruelty and sadness in the industry, or someone connects the dots for us over and over again, it is all too easy to let these injustices fall to the outskirts of our mind and eventually go over the edge and out of thought’s reach. Jo-Anne McArthur is working to stop this very thing from happening.

In partnership with the Born Free Foundation, McArthur has been able to travel across the zoos and aquaria of Europe and document the plight of captive animals there. With these powerful photos, as well as essays and accompanying text, she has created Captive, a book that, like her first publication, We Animals, aims to give people a better understanding of how captive animals around the world live.

McArthur shares in her Indie GoGo video some of the harrowing photos she has captured. The majority of these captive animals live in a desolate world of loneliness.

McArthur has seen animals that would normally travel in herds, like elephants, subjected to a tiny room with no interaction, whatsoever. 

She has seen creatures that are meant to fly thousands of miles forced to flutter pathetically in the confines of a brick room. 

While some people in the U.S. may be used to “educational” presentations at zoos, McArthur’s work quickly reveals that this is not the norm everywhere. Some zoos don’t even try to cover up the essence of what they truly are: prisons. 

McArthur also makes sure to capture the role humans play in the interaction, documenting how the visitors of zoos and aquariums may not realize the sadness of their interaction. 

Her images highlight the cruel joke that is the cage or glass that separates the spectator from the prisoner. 

By capturing the moments when people are juxtaposed with captive animals, she is able to illustrate the utter injustice of captivity, all without any text. 

This image perfectly captures the irony of our society. For example, marine parks use festive props, like balloons, when the animals are in fact, in misery.

She encourages people to step back and look at their behavior to perhaps reconsider just how useful, educational, and just, the activities they participate in are. 



As she shared on her Indie GoGo page for the project, all of the components of the book are ready, she simply is asking people to pre-order the books in advance in order to generate the money needed to produce, print, and distribute the piece as a full-colored paperback. She is hoping to raise $20,000, a goal she has halfway done with completing.

“We’re at an important point in history right now. More than ever, ordinary people are thinking about the ethics of keeping animals in captivity for our entertainment. This reflection will help propel us into a new era of (re)considering our relationship with other animals. ‘Captive’ aims to be a part of these important discussions,” shares McArthur.

Considering how moved people tend to be by images, oftentimes more so than with text, we couldn’t agree with McArthur more. If you’d like to donate to the cause and make sure that McArthur’s images are seen by as many people as possible, click here.

Captive will be published by Lantern Books in Spring 2017. 

All image source: Jo-Anne McArthur