Why I Think Zoos Should No Longer Exist

October 27, 2017
Zoos Should No Longer Exist

Many of us probably have a trip to the zoo tucked away in our album of childhood memories. It was thrilling to see animals up close that we otherwise might never have seen in the wild. We were too little to worry about whether the animals were happy in their enclosures, and our parents were merely glad to see us having a good time.

But now we’re all grown up, and we can’t see zoos through the innocence of our childhood eyes anymore. We see them for what they really are — small, unnatural enclosures where animals become trapped their entire lives, surrounded by a species that has brought them more harm than good. So here are some of the reasons I think zoos should no longer exist.

Zoos’ “Good Deeds” Aren’t Worth It

I won’t ignore the fact that zoos have improved greatly over the centuries since the first modern zoo opened in Paris in 1793. Zoos have slowly evolved from existing solely for entertainment to becoming centers for research and conservation, where scientists can monitor animals up close. Many zoos register as charity organizations and use their profits to fund species conservation and research.

But as much as they try to rebrand themselves and improve conditions for the animals, the very structure of zoos will always keep them from becoming truly helpful. The costs and resources used to accommodate crowds of visitors are unavoidable — like lighting, water, park maintenance and waste management. Many zoos have taken green initiatives to reduce their consumption, but it can’t be eliminated completely — unless the zoos close.

And no matter how much zoos remodel enclosures, they can never match the conditions that animals would have in the wild. Space is the biggest problem because many zoos are in urban areas and simply can’t expand to make enough room. This issue is why many animal rights activists call zoos “prison for animals”. And many species also become stressed from the crowds surrounding their exhibit every day.

What Should We Do Instead?

The research and repopulation efforts that scientists and veterinarians practice in zoos can be performed just as well in wildlife preserves. So it’s better to send people to native zones than to keep animals in artificial enclosures thousands of miles away from their natural habitat. Humans can adapt much more easily to different climates and ecosystems, so it makes sense that we should relocate rather than the animals.

People often credit zoos for educating children about animals, but this isn’t something that will be lost if zoos close their gates. Kids must first learn to appreciate nature and its inhabitants at home and in school, or else they will become adults who don’t respect wildlife. And closing zoos doesn’t mean that kids will never get the opportunity to see exotic species in person. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing a rhino in a video online isn’t anything like seeing one up close. But many wildlife preserves and rehabilitation centers welcome visitors on tours that are much more eco-friendly.

How Can We Make the Change?

The first step is to promote the cause until zoos themselves are willing to make the change. We also have to remember the infeasibility of shutting down all the zoos in one day. We can’t ship the thousands of animals that have been born and raised in captivity to their native homelands and set them free. Experts in animal care will have to create a plan for phasing out human interference that will likely take decades to complete.

That may sound daunting, but that’s why the sooner we get started, the better. And someday people will learn about zoos in history books the way we learn about gladiators — as a barbaric practice in the name of entertainment.


  • Reply Josh January 16, 2018 at 6:19 am

    I would have to completely disagree. There are good zoos and bad zoos. Good zoos have exceptional animal welfare, significantly contribute to in-situ conservation efforts, educate/engage/inspire people of all ages to care about wildlife and conservation, and many of the animals in the zoos are rescue animals that’ve been given a second chance. They’re providing safety nets for species, and many introduce animals back into the wild (some which would otherwise be extinct) through breeding programmes. Yes there are bad zoos which shouldn’t exist, but you can’t simply tar all zoos with the same brush. Although I do agree that certain animals, particularly those with large home ranges or high intelligence that exhibit behavioural signs of stress even in good zoos, shouldn’t be in zoos e.g. gorillas. However, if these animals are rescued from an unhappy life then it’s not so bad.

  • Reply conservationfolks January 25, 2018 at 11:27 am

    Hi Josh,

    That is an excellent point! There are definitely zoos out there doing a lot of good work in conservation and increasing endangered species population. A primary issue, however, is how zoos are viewed by our society. Most don’t take children to zoos for the purpose of teaching them the importance of preserving wild species but to see the animals. Although this is not the fault of zoos, it does also teach children the lesson of animals as a form of amusement and secondary to the lives of humans. Zoos have definitely improved in quality over time, and keepers, who genuinely care about the animals, are more specialized and trained in animal needs than they used to be, but they still have a long way to go before they are the idyllic place for animals that zoos promote themselves as.

  • Reply Desiree April 4, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    I agree about the view people have of the zoo being more for entertainment and, taking children just to see doesn’t teach respect, knowledge or awareness. It would be impossible to release the animals into the wild plus it would be extremely expensive. Plus, most children (or adults) can’t go to a safari in India for big cats or Africa for giraffes and elephants. I believe, a transition would work better without any upront cost. (There’d be loss, however.) If the law prohited the zoo to aquire new animals, eventually they’d dwindle out by dying of age. Many can still be sanctuaries though, they’ll shrink in size. In the meantime, the zoos could start transforming to AR (virtual/digital)-the first one just opened and the technology will keep on evolving. It’ll become a big thing. The same happened in photography-digital took over. If they truly want to be educational they can set up learning centers that are required for kids. Say, one for primates, big cats, birds, reptiles, etc.. Speaking of photography-it’s become amazing. You can see the hairs on Lemur’s face-the line in a tiger’s eyes when you put it on screen. You can’t alway see an animal close. If it’s a reputable zoo that offers the animals decent space, it could be quite far away. Animal encounters and ambassador animals should be prohibited, too. Breeding doesn’t help conservation if they can’t be released. They’re only preserving a species to keep them for us to see-not for the species in the wild. We don’t need zoos-we just want them and, at who’s expense? Just a few ideas.

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