The Zoo of the Future Has No Cages, But is it a Win for Captive Animals?

Danish architects are taking on the task of creating a zoo environment that will change what the face of captivity looks like in the future with the reveal of plans for what it’s calling the “world’s most advanced zoo.”

The Givskud Zoo in Denmark has accepted a design from the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) that has no cages and will allow animals to live in environments that mimic their natural habitats. The first phase is expected to be completed by 2019, just in time for the park’s 50th anniversary.

The project is being called “Zootopia” and, according to the architects, while creating a “framework for such diverse users and residents such as gorillas, wolves, bears, lions and elephants is an extremely complex task,” they believe it will create “the best possible and freest possible environment for the animals’ lives and relationships with each other and visitors.”

“Rather than looking at a single animal alone in a cage, which is a very unnatural way of experiencing an animal, sometimes you’re outnumbered by the animals and you see them in a real habitat,” Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG, told USA Today.

Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group

The details are still being worked out, but the changes will be dramatic. Visitors will enter into a complex that overlooks habitats and can venture into other areas that represent Africa, America and Asia, which will be connected by a hiking trail.

Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group

Buildings designed for visitors will be camouflaged and cages and barriers will be removed to let animals roam freely. Instead, they’ll use waterways or changes in elevation as natural barriers to separate them.

Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group

According to Slate, the architects have come up with a number of ways to hide visitors that may include using mirrors to deflect their presence and allowing visitors to view the captive wildlife on a hiking trail around the complex or by bike, boat or from above.

Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group

It looks pleasant in theory, but does giving a zoo a facelift fix the problems that anti-captivity advocates have with zoos? It might be an upgrade from the depressing enclosures found in most zoos, but still doesn’t address unnecessarily keeping wild animals in captivity just so we can gawk at them. It also doesn’t address the issue of keeping animals in an inappropriate climate, deal with breeding, selling and killing surplus animals, or do anything to really support in situ conservation for imperiled species, which they are in dire need of.

“Well, ‘on paper’ this seems better for the animals and it probably would be for some of them,” Dr. Lori Marino told the HuffPost. “In the end, however, because it is a zoo it will have to turn a profit and the priority will be on that goal — not on the animals. We’ll see how this goes. If it turns out to be more of a sanctuary than a commercial zoo then it could be worthwhile.”

Meanwhile there are plenty of ways to connect with, and learn about wildlife, without contributing to the captivity industry. We can get outside and take advantage of one of the hundreds of parks in our National Park System, which will also support their preservation, watch a documentary, visit a wildlife sanctuary or check out one of the zillion webcams that offer us a glimpse into the lives of a variety of animals who are living free in the wild on sites like

Photo credit: Bjarke Ingels Group via Arch Daily


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Patricia Guilhem
Patricia Guilhem3 years ago

NON ! NON ! NON! Pas de nouveau zoo. Quelque soit les idées nouvelles pour un nouveau zoo, cela reste un zoo. Les animaux ne seront pas dans leur milieu naturel. Cela restera toujours une prison. Je suis très en colère et triste de penser à ces pauvres animaux. On ne peut pas remplacer les forêts, les rivières, les océans par du béton. Pensons à protéger l' environnement en priorité.

Lorna D.
Lorna O3 years ago

If we truly would like to help in preserving what species of animals are still left, we should be spending on their natural habitat preservation, help countries with rampant poaching problems, stop glorifying trophy hunting among other things and not settling for the "best possible life" in captivity and slavery.

Donna F.
Donna F3 years ago

fascinating. I do go to San Diego's Safari Park, where the animals live in open spaces. how would the animals do in Denmark's very cold climate? Animals which are used to extreme heat or extreme cold should never be kept in the opposite temperature. maybe, for animals already in captivity.

Dominic C.
Dominic C3 years ago

Zoos without cages has been there for a while already, its not new and not novel. However, animals do have more room to move and the habitat adapted in such a way that they love but still captivity is still captivity. Perhaps more rights to the animals and better for zoo enthusiasts and learners because the environment suits their understanding.

Jayne Knoche
Jayne Knoche3 years ago

A "no cages" zoo is not a new idea. This sounds like the San Diego Wild Animal Park, built a couple of decades ago.

Sylvain-Paul C.
Sylvain-Paul C3 years ago

I say as S.
With the technology we now have, creating a 3D virtual zoo would be easy. No need to use a lot of land. Film animals in their normal environment and project them in 3D using the same fancy equipment they use for interactive 3D games.
And ALWAYS include teaching about the abuse poachers and illegal hunting does to wildlife.

M S3 years ago

With modern technology should be created whole new concept of virtual zoo. It coud show virtual images of animals, plants, smells. It could provide a feeling beeing in a different environment. Who would start to create it?

Else G.
Else G3 years ago

I should learn to proof read.before I hit comment. That should read their profits are NOT huge like a corporation like GM etc.