Elif Gulmen


Keeping Animals in Zoos Is No Different Than Placing Humans in Prison Without Cause

06 July 2020

Some of the elephant herd at the Kaziranga Forest Trail, Dublin Zoo: Upali, Berrnhardine, Yasmin, Anak and Asha. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

This year has been a wake-up call for the world, starting from the global warming awakening with the Australian bush-fires, to a global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Alongside these events, 2020 has been a year of changes, and this could also be the year for zoos to be closed completely.

The existence of zoos date back to the early 1800s and the treatment of wildlife animals has always been an issue.

Back in 2010, The Captive Animals Protection Society minister Angela Smith denounced zoos as “relics of the Victorian era” and said it was “inappropriate to keep wild animals in captivity in this way”.

She further added how times have changed from the 1800s, by saying, “people couldn’t travel, but now people can travel and they can see animals in amazing films and television documentaries.”

British broadcaster David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries can be argued to be more educational than people going to zoos to view animals.

For instance, dinosaurs have never been seen with the human eye but yet so much is known about them through scientific research, documentaries and books.

For many, going to the zoo is more for fun than educational, going to the zoo has become part of the cultural practice for decades, to educate and entertain visitors.

Many countries around the world use wildlife animals, mainly from Asia and Africa, which attracts visitors to come and see animals they don’t see every day.

Zoos are mostly visited by families with children and school run trips, that the normalisation of zoos in society has become acceptable from a young age and the visualisation of caged up animals has become a form of entertainment.

Photograph: Joanne McCarthur, Born Free Foundation

One of the most entertainment-based zoos is SeaWorld Orlando which is a theme park and an open aquarium holding thousands of different species of fish. It was well-known for holding performances by whales and dolphins attracting thousands of tourists globally.

The issue was the orcas in SeaWorld which were captured from their natural habitat to perform and live in small concrete tanks, only forty feet deep which was not enough for them. The orcas were used to perform like circus animals.

The trainers at SeaWorld are performers and work hard to put on a good performance for visitors rather than educating them about the fishes.

In 2016, SeaWorld put an end to using orcas for performance purposes and ended the forced breeding of orcas. However, the orcas and many other fishes are still kept in unnatural habitats.

There are still many zoos that fail to care for their animals as they suffer in cramped and unnatural living conditions.

Scientists have visited zoos and have studied large cat’s behaviour, realising they pace back and forth inside their cages, this means they are coping with boredom and small enclosures. One study shows that chimpanzees were more likely to show signs of compromised mental health issues, by hair-plucking, self-biting, and self-hitting. Research has shown elephants to die younger in zoos, mostly due to a lack of exercise and to high-stress levels.

This comes to show that, animals may not be physically tortured as much as they did in the past but the mental torture is still present. Keeping animals captive is bad for their physical and psychological health.

Zoos have succeeded in breeding animals and protecting many from going extinct, like the Golden Lion Tamarin, however, they are struggling to sustain animals in the wild as they are not born and raised in the wildlife habitat which means the animals can’t adapt to their original nature.

Human actions also have a huge impact on the increase of deaths of animals dying in wildlife due to poaching, climate change and pollution.

Not all zoos are created equal as all zoos are invested differently in each country and due to this some animals in some zoos suffer more than others.

Nowadays, zoos can be argued as tactics to make money from animals and to boost tourist attraction.

The results of zoos are that animals’ freedom and nature are restricted. Animals may not have a voice, but people seeing these and hearing about the cruel treatment should be taking action for change, and this year is the best year for that.

Elif Gülmen is a graduate in Media and Journalism from Northumbria University. She has worked in television and on online news platforms. She is located in Newcastle, UK and is fluent in English and Turkish. She has worked alongside refugees and asylum seekers at NEST. Elif is passionate about being a voice for the under-represented. Follow Eilf on Twitter