Human Crimes Against Animals, Part 31 - Zoos
An Animal Rights Article from


Dave Bernazani

(global) – Elephants in zoos live anonymous lives. Day after day, the zoo-going public stops for a brief look, unaware of the secret suffering elephants endure. They don’t know that what zoos refer to as ’specimens’ in their ‘collections’ are actually intelligent, self-aware individuals who were once part of tight-knit families that would give their lives to protect one another (and some possibly did).

They are equally unaware (and the zoos don’t want them to know) that the elephants may be physically suffering from the ravages of captivity, dosed with drugs to mask their pain, and sometimes forced to endure repeated artificial insemination, a painful procedure that often requires incisions to expand the vulva, making it susceptible to infection… just so zoos can get baby elephants, a big crowd-pleaser. Usually the attempts fail miserably, or the babies die prematurely of diseases they would never get in the wild.

Most zoos act as prisons to the animals housed there. According to studies by wildlife welfare experts, around 80% of the animals exhibit stereotypical behaviors, such as pacing, head-bobbing and other types of repetitive movements that show the animal is in distress as a result of confinement and being stared at day in, day out.

Zoos cannot adequately house and care for large mammals such as elephants, giraffes and rhinos– only preserves and sanctuaries have the room they require. Not to mention, animals that are captured abroad are torn from family members or herds.

Who’s fighting them: ATAAC, CAPS (Captive Animals Protective Society), the International Elephant Foundation, The Elephant Sanctuary, HSUS, PETA, IDA, Equanimal (Spain), ALV (Aus), Animal Aid.


Today's zoos are a relic of a bygone age – a Victorian concept which, as our knowledge of the animal kingdom grows, becomes even less palatable.

To most people, it is self evident that keeping a rhinoceros in a small concrete enclosure in central London is hardly appropriate. So zoos claim they are on a greater mission: for conservation, education, research, and entertainment. Zoos now favor terms like wildlife park or even ’sanctuary’.

It is a myth to think that all zoo animals have been captive bred. All of the African elephants in UK zoos and most of the Asian have been imported from their country of origin. Wild animals are still captured and supplied to animal collections. In 1998 some 30 infant wild elephants were taken from their mothers in Botswana to be sold to European zoos by an animal dealer. Animal protection groups stepped in to oppose the sale but were unable to prevent seven elephants going to zoos in Switzerland and Germany.

Although zoos may not take as many animals from the wild as they once did, once there, the animals are there for life. In 1996, of 138 Bornean orang-utans in 35 European collections, 38 were wild born, ranging from 7 to 41 years old.

And some species such as white tigers, which zoos covet because of their “Ooh and ahh” appeal, are so grossly inbred that 80% don’t even live, and most of the rest have genetic defects and are sold to whoever will buy them. The breeding of white tigers is unethical, but then so is keeping any animal behind bars for life, but many zoos do both. If you happen to see a white tiger in a zoo, ask the keepers uncomfortable questions like where did it come from, why are they still inbreeding them, and how many of his siblings had to die for him to be there. Let them know that you hold no value in inbred animals just because it makes them look “special”.

Recent progress

Public knowledge of proper animal care is improving faster than the zoo habitats themselves. Huge strides have been made recently in many western zoos. 18American zoos (including the San Francisco, Philadelphia and Bronx zoos) have opted to transfer their elephants to sanctuaries, admitting that they can not provide adequate habitats for the large creatures. Others, like the Dallas and L.A. zoos, are spending millions of dollars in improvements, but even with that many still cannot adequately provide for the needs of many of the larger animals.

Go to Human Crimes Against Animals, Part 32 - Extinction
Go to Human Crimes Against Animals - Introduction

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