Do We Really Need Zoos?

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Do We Really Need Zoos?

I’ve visited many zoos around the world in my twenty five years on this planet, and I always looked forward to indulging in my love of nature in whatever small, humble way I could, land-locked in the centre of the UK or, more recently, relocated on a tiny Mediterranean island with virtually no native mammal species.

So during my recent trip to Madrid a day out to the city’s zoo was definitely on my to-do list. However, after my visit I found myself feeling unusually hollow and felt as though I had come to a new realisation since my last zoo experience eight years ago.

Zoos have moved on a great deal since 1828 when weird and wonderful animals were transported from across our colonies for our gawking eyes and our amusement. Facilities have improved, cages (or enclosures) have gotten bigger, and education, welfare and conservation have become a much higher priority. Zoos have allowed many people, me included, to learn about species that they would not have otherwise been able to see, and zoos inspire and intrigue us at all ages.

However, I left the city zoo feeling that this showcase of the natural world, as diverse and immersing as it was, was just a falsity. A portfolio of species in a context that simply does not exist in the wild. I struggle to see the benefits of zoos claiming conservation aims when they have managed to successfully breed a family of rare giant pandas, only to keep them confined to a relatively small and featureless enclosure with no possibility of ever introducing them into the wild to diversify its minuscule population.


I struggle to see the educational purposes of keeping (as far as I could see, at least) a lone wolf in an area not big enough for it to break into a run. This is not a typical or an accurate representation of the wolf in the wild. We all know that the wolf is a highly intelligent, social and transient species that roams vast areas and holds a huge territory with diverse habitat.


The rather lonely (and also rather scrawny) Arctic wolf 

I struggle to see how children benefit from being held in front of a fence by their parents for a photo, when the child is not even old enough to know that he is a child. Or how older children can learn anything aboutanimals by banging on the glass screaming, or commenting (yet again) that they found Dory.

It’s problematic for me, one who wishes to indulge in nature as much as possible, and who craves contact with the natural world, to feel such apathy for this place. Whilst I am certain at least that the animals that I saw had their basic needs taken care of, behavioural, spacial, social and psychological restrictions are clearly felt. It definitely gave me some serious food for thought.


I’d love to know your opinions on this matter.

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2017-04-20T08:02:36+00:00 August 20th, 2016|Animal Rights, Animals, Conservation, Science, Zoos|4 Comments


  1. navasolanature August 21, 2016 at 10:16 am - Reply

    It’s a difficult one. London Zoos big mammals all live outside London at Whipsnade. Much open space and maybe they live a more safe life? There are examples of species that have been reintroduced and zoos have helped. I think we should welcome good zoos with strong conservation aims. Safari parks I am a bit more suspect about even though there is space.

  2. cjwaterfield August 21, 2016 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Agree, the biggest issue I have is space; some of the larger mammals may be safer in game reserves, but even this intense monitoring is far from ideal. We definitely need more genuine zoos and much fewer Seaworlds.

  3. justinfenech August 21, 2016 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    It’s a necessary evil, yet, when you say that, people tend to just focus on the ‘necessary’ part. Are we forgetting the ‘evil’? Or just ignoring it?

    • cjwaterfield August 22, 2016 at 2:52 pm - Reply

      At the rate we’re going zoos will become necessary, as the only refuge for wildlife left on this earth. It will be a sad day when we imprison all of nature.

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