The following is adapted from an article I wrote for PETA.org.
When I was a kid, I went to the zoo all the time with my family. I loved pandas as a kid (still do!), and I thought being able to see them in person would be neat. But once I saw them “up close and personal,” I realized that the animals were miserable. It instantly became very clear to me that the animals imprisoned in zoos are sad and don’t want to be kept in artificial environments, have people gawk at them, listen to children who bang on the windows of their enclosures, or have cameras flashing in their faces. To put it simply, zoos are imprisoning animals who want to be free.
Captive animals are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them, and as a result, they become bored and lonely and many even suffer from a condition called “zoochosis.” If you’ve ever witnessed a captive animal rock and sway back and forth, you’ve seen the disease firsthand. This condition is so rampant in zoos that some zoos give animals a mood-altering drug, such as Prozac, because the public has started to catch on.
Some animals are so unhappy that they risk their lives in desperate attempts to free themselves. At the Dallas Zoo, a gorilla named Jabari tried to escape by jumping over the walls and moats of his enclosure, only to be fatally shot by police. A witness later confessed that teenagers were taunting him by throwing rocks. Just this past year at the Copenhagen Zoo, a healthy giraffe was killed and just weeks later, the same zoo killed four lions.
Animals are unable to thrive in small enclosures, especially with unnatural weather and climates. For example, elephants typically walk up to 30 miles in just one day, but Lucy, the lone elephant at the Edmonton Zoo, is locked inside a barn when the zoo is closed and during Edmonton’s frigid winter months, which means she spends most of her time indoors, without much room to move. The near-constant confinement because of the harsh weather has caused Lucy to develop painful arthritis.
In reality, most people only spend a few seconds at each display, waiting for the animals to do something “exciting,” but they gain little, if any, true understanding of the animals. In addition, captive animals don’t get to choose their mates, and they are sometimes artificially inseminated so that their babies can be sold or traded to other zoos. This often results in miscarriages, death at birth, or the mother’s rejection of her young. The Chinese government “rents” pandas to zoos worldwide for fees of more than $1 million per year!
Traveling and roadside zoos are even crueler. Animals are often kept in barren cages, such as concrete pens, and in stressful environments, with nothing more than an old tire or a log to stimulate their minds and enrich their lives. People have also been sickened—and some have died—after contracting diseases from animals in petting zoos.
Instead of going to the zoo, you can learn about animals by watching nature documentaries or observing the animals in their own natural habitats instead. Now that I know the reality behind zoos, I don’t go to the zoo, and I encourage my friends and family to boycott them as well. I love animals, and I want to see them free, not held captive behind bars!