Zoos Don’t Care About Animal Welfare

Zoo employees and university students participated in a forum last week on how to improve the lives of zoo animals.

The forum was hosted by the Detroit Zoological Center for Zoo Animal Welfare in partnership with Michigan State University. The daylong discussion focused on issues like how to apply recent farm animal welfare research can be applied to zoo animals.

There were also discussions on how to get zoo visitors to think about animal welfare.

The DZS Director of Animal Welfare Cynthia Bennett told The Daily Tribune that zoos know how to feed and house animals but that they don’t know if animals are necessarily thriving just because they’re healthy and reproducing.

Forums and programs like this may seem like they’ve got the animals’ best interests in mind, but the truth is that because they are organized and funded by zoos and groups affiliated with zoos, their approach is always going to be what’s best for the zoo first and what’s best for the animals second or third at best.

Consider a hypothetical situation. What would happen if any the researchers involved with this forum were to find some kind of proof that zoos were inherently and irrevocably damaging to animals, some kind of proof that even they couldn’t ignore. What do you think they would do? Issue a recommendation that their respective zoos shut down? Or try to spin the information or obscure it?

Trying to make the lives of zoo animals better can only ever go so far because animals are not meant to be confined in cages for human amusement. Trying to make visitors aware of animal welfare is a fine line to walk for a zoo. At what point does a visitor become too aware of the animals’ welfare? At what point does a zoo visitor think about how much better off the animals would be if they weren’t locked in cages?

How many high profile news stories do we have to see about zoo animals dying en masse or animals killing their handlers before we realize that confining wild animals in cages for the sake of gawking at them might be bad for all parties involved?

An artificial environment will never meet all the needs of a wild animal. Being forced to stay in close proximity to a species that they’ve been genetically disposed to fear – humans – while residing in cages and enclosures that are fractions of the space they’re used to occupying.

Animals do not exist for our entertainment any more than they exist for our consumption. If you want to improve the lives of animals you should start by boycotting all industries that treat animals as property to be bred, relocated, tortured, confine, and killed when it is convenient for us.

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Photo: Japus


Lorraine Andersen

Small cage zoos are not a place to keep animals. Safari type park where the animals get to live in encloseures that closely resemble their own habitate at least give them some standard of life.

Joy Dantine
Joy Dantine7 years ago

When there is a bottom line, read it - for it is the bottom line. Sanctuary's have bottom lines, but, have intent on the front line defense of animal protection - not animal showmanship.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran7 years ago


Friederike L.

there are some zoos like San Diego Safari Park, that let the animals walk a round at a very big place. The visitors actually take a type of bus to see many of the animals. Not all zoos are alike.

Carol Cowbrough
Carol C8 years ago

Noted. Thank you.

Rachel H.
Rachel H8 years ago

Was done with this article, originally, but I saw your post, Martha, and had to mention a couple things...

1. You say that: "Animals should not be confined in cages. Period."
Dogs and cats, in addition to wild animals, are routinely placed in crates or 'cages' for transport. Whether it is taking a cat to the vet or moving a mated pair of wolves to new territory, there are times when containers are necessary. You must weigh the pros and the cons. Con: The animal will be uncomfortable for a limited amount of time. Pro: You save the animal's life.

2. You state that: "The argument that it allows people to see animals besides their own companion animals, is a false choice."
This is NOT a standalone argument, and I don't remember seeing anyone use that argument as a reason to place animals in zoos and sanctuaries. What I DID see, was that point being used as one of the side BENEFITS of keeping an animal in a zoo for conservation purposes.

I think all animal lovers would love for our wild friends to return to their natural habitat. What we would NOT like to see is them becoming extinct due to poaching and habitat destruction. Until then, we make the animals as comfortable as possible while we try to stop the aforementioned poaching and destruction, so that one day our CHILDREN (as you suggested) can take trips with their parents to see the animals in their original environments.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle8 years ago

Animals should not be confined in cages. Period. The argument that it allows people to see animals besides their own companion animals, is a false choice. Tell your children WHY it is wrong to cage animals, and then settle down for a nice Nat'l Geographic special.

Mac McDaniel
Mac MacDaniel8 years ago

Clara H,

I despise poachers and hunters as much as I despise zoos and circuses. I don't believe that it is ethically acceptable to advocate for a lesser of two evils. It is morally inconsistent and intellectual dishonest to concede the point that animals have to live a life in a cage or a be killed en masse by greedy poachers.

It isn't "vegan lies" to advocate that people respect the lives and habitats of animals. Your comments on my blogs show a lack of forethought or careful consideration of the issues at stake.

clara H.
Clara Hamill8 years ago

What a load of crap you are known to spout vegan lies and now this how are the animals going to live in the wild with poachers and their habitat disappearing or are you going to throw them out of the zoo and let them die. Some animal lover you. There are accredited zoos who care and have breeding programs to bring the animals back from extention . You should stop writing lies and make people angry.

Lika S.
Lika P8 years ago

Wild animals need as natural of environment as possible. I can understand if wounded or ailing animals in need of care need to be in safe areas to heal, and sometimes it's at zoos. I don't think zoo keepers are people who don't care about the animals, they need to have that good relations with the animals to care for them. But I also believe that the animals need more freedom than what they have.