Contrary to what many of us were told when we were young, a zoo is not a happy place for animals. We might have once looked forward to a trip to the zoo, where we would come face-to-face with wild beasts that we only read about in books or saw on TV, but life in a cage is no life at all for captive animals.

Being deprived of their natural environment and behaviors often leads zoo animals to suffer from a condition known as zoochosis, a mental illness that is characterized by repetitive behaviors such as swaying, rocking, and pacing, self-mutilation, over-grooming, and vomiting. On top of that, these animals are not free — their entire well-being is subject to the zoo’s facilities, veterinary staff, and keepers.


The South Lakes Safari zoo in Cumbria, England, is exemplary of how captivity fails animals. The zoo became infamous after the death of Sarah McClay in 2013, a keeper who was mauled by a captive Sumatran tiger, whose pen was left unlocked. According to The Guardian, the family requested that the tiger not be euthanized because of this tragic event, but it was soon killed by the zoo staff. According to The Guardian, vets were instructed to put the tiger to sleep with “no notes as to reason.”

The death of Sarah McClay lead to the zoo’s owner being prosecuted on the grounds of health and safety concerns, but it also sparked the interest of animal rights organization Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS), which decided to closely monitor the zoo’s animals.

According to CAPS, nearly 500 animals have died at the zoo in the past four years — that’s a mortality rate of about 12 percent each year. Among the zoo’s victims are a tortoise who was electrocuted to death by an electric fence, a jaguar who was euthanized after chewing off its own paw, a rhino who was crushed to death against a barrier by its pen mate, five baboons who were euthanized because there was “no room,” a lemur who was killed after entering the wolf enclosure, and so many more tragic, untimely deaths.  Allegedly, one keeper told zoo inspectors that she was informed by management that “if there were any further deaths, she was to just dispose of the bodies and not to tell anyone.”

Due to their findings, zoo inspectors are advising the local council that the zoo close down for good and that David Gill, the zoo’s license holder, be prosecuted for allowing the animals to suffer. The local council will meet with zoo inspectors on March 6th to discuss the future of the zoo. CAPS will be present to advocate for the zoo’s closure. Too many animals have suffered in its care — it is time for them to retire to a sanctuary.


Although the South Lakes Safari zoo is an individual case, no animal belongs in captivity. If this careless treatment of animals upsets you, then the best thing you can do is boycott zoos and any facility that asks you to pay to see animals.

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Lead image source: Sue Burton PhotographyLtd/Shutterstock