Prozac Will Not Cure the Mental Anguish of Captive Animals

It’s hard not to love the happy-go-lucky penguin. They can be so much like us; they give their desired lifetime mate the most precious pebble that they can find. In a Japanese zoo, a penguin recently showed their favorite zookeeper serious happy feet love by following their every step.

If you watched that video, then you would think penguins have it made in captivity. Yet, if that were the case, then why would the Humboldt penguins, in a British sanctuary, need prozac?

Instead of tagging human first world problems and solutions to the animal world, conservationists should learn natural animal problems and solutions. As history shows, the next main animal attraction, at a zoo, sanctuary or park, can easily become a fatal attraction.

No Place Like Home for Humboldt Penguins

While most of us picture penguins thriving in bone freezing weather, that’s not the natural habitat for the South American Humboldt penguins. Humboldt penguins thrive in a diversity of climates, in their native Chile and Peru. Britain’s stagnant weather is nowhere near home.

As Lyndsey Crawford, the Sea Life Centre curator, told The Guardian: ”‘What they don’t get, though, is weeks of almost daily downpours and high winds. After the first week out, birds were just a bit subdued, but after over a month now, they are thoroughly fed-up and miserable.’”

The poor penguins also had to deal with the joys of captivity and close human contact when an intruder chased the Humboldt penguins around in their enclosure. As The Guardian reports, Humboldt penguins are extremely sensitive to their environment and thrive on routine; the break-in to their enclosure shook them up, so it took some time for them to produce eggs again.

It’s not just that the Sanctuary is concerned with the mental and emotional welfare of the penguins either. Sad, scared and miserable penguins just don’t breed. And we all learned how important breeding is to institutions, like zoos, sanctuaries and animal parks, through the death of Marius the Giraffe and the destroying of six lions. Animals that cannot breed are bad for business.

The penguins are taking Prozac as an “upper” to help get them through the weather rough patch. As Crawford told The Guardian, she hopes the Prozac would do the temporary trick until some ongoing sunshine can give “the penguins the tonic [that] they really need.”

Arturo the Depressed Polar Bear

As The Journal reports, Arturo, a 29-year-old polar bear, also has weather related blues. Arturo was already reported to be “in mourning” since 2012 after the death of his enclosure companion. Yet Arturo has his own health to worry about now. The polar bear is stuck in the middle of the Argentinian desert where “he is also exhausted from the heat.”

Many Argentinians are outraged at the thought of losing a polar to heat exhaustion because it’s already happened. According to The Journal, Argentinians still can’t forget the Christmas passing of Winner, a 16-year-old polar bear, when “temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius.”

While there were possible plans of relocating Arturo to Canada, they were short-lived. Fox News Latino reports that zoo experts cite Arturo’s advanced age and “fragile” health as the main obstacles in realizing the move.

Environmentalists disagree. They claim that a more thorough investigation was needed, and Canada would’ve been a better climatic fit. According to The Journal, Canada is where “60 percent of the world’s 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears” reside.

Gus Was Another Depressed Polar Bear

While not a desert, New York’s Central Park Zoo seems like an unlikely home for a polar bear. Gus was a 27-year-old polar bear who was euthanized in 2013.

As NY Mag explains, Gus was the polar bear with a “$25,000 therapist.” He was reported to have many emotional problems — “he had been bored and restless, neurotic and obsessive, and so the zoo had brought in a specialist.”

All of this anthropomorphizing aside, like the Arctic, the emotional lives of animals are still largely unknown. It’s a shame that after many decades of captivity, we still haven’t given them enriching and stimulating environments that match their natural world and their natural essence. Things like Prozac and a $25,000 therapist don’t even come close.

Photo Credit: Chris Nystrom


Jim Ven
Jim Ven11 months ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brownabout a year ago

thanks for sharing :)

BJ J.2 years ago

Nutz, totally NUTZ!!

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Don't ever make excuses for these kind of pharm toxins. They are lethal and were never intended to "help"

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Prozac and related drugs are toxins.. psychotropic poisons that create serial killers.. they are part of the criminal pharmaceutical operations that have been forced on a gullible public, and giving them to animals is an equally serious crime.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.2 years ago

Prozac and a "therapist". How irresponsible and just plain stupid. Drugging penguins? None of this would be needed if the animals were given what they needed in the first place. Any animal will become depressed or morose if they are held in conditions that are unsatisfactory to their needs. Why do these "experts" not seem to understand this. Solitary elephants, polar bears in temperatures that are too hot, penquins in constant rain...all those conditions would drive any human over the edge and yet we expect animals to tolerate it and still entertain us. It is wrong.

Rosemary H.
Rosemary H.2 years ago

Green star to Mandy H!

Ruhee B, you may envision a world in which zoos are banned, but how exactly are you going to ban their supporters?

A point has occurred to me. Many animals are territorial. That means they don't dream of wandering free as the air, as far as they can go, and pine when they are unable to do so. So the restrictions on their world are physical, instead of being an encounter with a very aggressive member of their own species. In the wild animals who cannot hold a territory are driven from pillar to post until they die. So the zoo gives such animals a chance to live in peace!

As for the dominant animals, is there evidence that they actually enjoy fighting to keep their territories? Well, the people who would say - leave them alone - we cannot know what they think, are also the people who say animals are so much better than people. How does that fit with saying they enjoy fighting their own kind?

I am of course talking about zoos with massive enclosures and a no-kill policy for 'surplus' animals.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B.2 years ago

Just another reason why Zoos and their supporters should be banned!

Mandy H.
Mandy H.2 years ago

Prozac doesn't help most people! It's one of the least tolerated medications for depression, I'm not saying medication is bad (my Effexor works well and is an important part of my treatment) but Prozac in particular is. However I disagree that all animals are unhappy in captivity and that all zoos are unable to meet animals emotional needs as well as their physical. The penguins in the Melbourne Aquarium in Australia are happy, healthy and those that are not on contraception can produce eggs. Many animals in the Melbourne Zoo also in Australia are well cared for as well, all enclosures contain all sorts of different things that the animals like, primates for example have lots of trees, ropes and wood platforms to climb on that are very tall and the elephants have two mud 'pools' to play in ect. it is rare for these animals to display any sort of mental anguish and the vets that work a the zoo regularly check the animals for signs of distress. Animals in sanctuaries are normally very happy and healthy when well cared for and the same can be said for any zoo animal who is looked after with the same care that a sanctuary uses.

Felicia D.
Felicia D.2 years ago

It's not anthropomorphizing to say an animal is suffering from boredom, anxiety, misery or despair- they have brains and nervous systems very similar to ours and so it's completely possible for them to have the same emotions as we do- filtered through their own experiences and senses, of course. An animal who is by genetics designed to walk long distances, be in the company of others of its species and deal with long, hot summer days is not going to thrive when placed in a small cage, alone and with short, cold days and long, colder nights. Prozac and other mood drugs may make a small, short term difference but I don't think they do that good a job for humans without the human also making changes in their life to support a better life so how can it work for caged animals? The answer is to change the situation, not the animal's mind with chemicals. For the penguins that could mean bright, full-spectrum lights to simulate more sun, toys that they can play with that trigger some of their natural foraging techniques, etc. It's still not a great solution but there is much that can be done to make animals' lives better if they have to be in captivity that does not involve drugs. I'm not really fond of zoos at all any more. :/