The Sad Animals in Zoos Myth

Orangutan

Source

“Aw, that polar looks so sad. He doesn’t like this cage”. “Poor monkey, so bored with nothing to do”.

Have you ever made a comment like this? Have you ever heard someone say this at a public zoo or petstore? The answer is likely to be yes. Despite unfamiliarity with the species in question, or even that animal as an individual, this is a common occurrence and a blatant example of the conflict with anthropomorphism.

"Sad" Bear

Source

Mistaking both 'sad' and 'happy' expressions

Most people who do not spend significant time around non-domesticated animals often lack the ability to detect an animal’s mood. Even I, before finally adopting a dog, found the behavioral patterns of that species to be foreign.

The more animals I became in charge of caring for, the more I learned about them; things that books and even documentaries failed to do. This experience is simply irreplaceable. However to different extents, ‘wild’ animal behavior will vary significantly with animals raised by or around humans, but in caring for animals you will come to understand the species’ capabilities (and limitations).

Canines look sad when their head touches the ground

Source

My "sad" dog

I'm sure my dog is not abused.
I'm sure my dog is not abused. | Source

Is this what people want to see?

Some animals, such as chimps, "smile" when they are afraid or excited. (A macaque  is pictured)
Some animals, such as chimps, "smile" when they are afraid or excited. (A macaque is pictured) | Source

There have been many times that my mother would perceive that my spotted genet was “calm” and try to pet him, but I would quickly intervene because I saw a nervous animal preparing to bite.

People often misunderstand both sadness, aggression, and even happiness in animals. Animal rights movements often speak of the ‘fake dolphin smile’ that will be glued on the faces of bottlenose dolphins even as they attack helpless porpoises in the wild. When many animals such as dolphins, dogs, and even snakes open their mouths, they appear to have this particular expression --> :D

Wild lion transformed to 'depressed zoo lion' with bars

Taken at Kruger National Park. Cage bars complete the 'sad' illusion.
Taken at Kruger National Park. Cage bars complete the 'sad' illusion. | Source

Zoo or the wild?

Challenge! Which animals are miserable because of their lack of freedom? The “sad” animals in the following pictures are either in the ‘wild’ or captivity, (some traditional zoos and others in spacious ‘sanctuaries’ that most people approve of). Guess which one is which. No cheating, if you’re familiar with these animals, where they’re located, or the fauna which surrounds them to help you guess, it doesn’t count!

Other animals naturally look sad, and sometimes even downright depressed. Some animals need not do anything in particular, but for most animals, the simple act of laying down with their head on the ground will give them the appearance of being miserable.

Therefore, any animal that performs this typical resting posture may upset people wth pre-exsisting anti-captive animal sentiment. Add on seeing this through cage bars, and it is totally heart breaking.

1. A Colobus monkey, about to cry?

Source

Some animals that often look sad.

Primates
Carnivores
Others
Orangutans
Dogs
Elephants
Gibbons
Lions
Giraffe
Capuchin monkeys
Bears
Seals
Colobus monkeys
cheetah
Chameleons

2. Lions

Source

Cage bars

But what are cage bars to an animal? To a human in our society (and probably all others), cages bars are more than a barrier. They represent loss of freedom, eternal confinement, lack of dignity, and criminality, among other things. This is why a cage can provide the same amount of space, but people will feel better about enclosures that lack bars and instead have moats or see-through glass. Animals do not possess our evolved, cultural aversion to cage bars. Most animals (or non-humans, for lack of a better term), perceive a barrier but do not associate the same emotional intensity with these structures. Humans on the other hand project their emotions with cages (or tanks) to animals.

3. Savanna Baboon

Source

On the flipside, the human’s psychological state may even trick humans into thinking too highly of an animal’s enclosure. The turquoise, clear water tanks that cetaceans are kept in may look inviting to us because they remind us of pools, tropical oceans and oasis, but recently this view has been challenged with more scrutiny by people who study their natural behavior.

4. Polar Bear

Source

So why do I provide examples of the opposite effect? It is important for all of us, from casual observers to scientists who study animal behavior to purge our inherent desire to see ourselves in the animals, both for the unfair criticism of zoos and well-being of all captive animals (not just zoo animals). Sometimes something as simple as the boney structure of an animal’s jaw can make it ‘sad’ or ‘happy’ to the human brain.

5. Gibbon

Source

Lethargy

Some other zoo visitors point out that an animal seems sad because it’s not as lively or interesting as the animals they’ve seen in the wild or in documentaries.

There are some possible logical explanations for this. Most documentaries tend to show animals doing interesting things, being more active and doing things such as hunting or forging, playing, swimming, and other entertaining behaviors.

Most animals do not do this all day. If you see an animal in the wild, it’s likely that said animal is more alert having seen you or being in the situation in which it will be out of its comfort zone, and thusly more alert. In not too many circumstances can you approach an animal unhabituated to humans during its ‘down time’, and at the zoo, you are seeing animals that are 100% acclimated to the constant stream of human visitors. And at times they may look, or may possibly even be ‘bored’.

6. African Elephant

Source

Boredom

Sometimes animals get bored. It will probably happen less in the wild since most wild animals have the daily occupation of surviving. But in some circumstances, if they are bored in nature it isn’t likely to occur in a human’s presence.

Regardless, being bored in captivity can be an issue as well a luxury. Zoo animals have their essential needs taken care of and can afford to be ‘bored’ just like you, your dog or your cat (perhaps your boredom led you here). Too much boredom however, defined by a lack of stimulus, is a welfare issue.

However, your minute-long visit of witnessing what you perceive as a ‘bored’ animal does not necessarily mean the animal is always in this state. You could be seeing an animal resting, or a certain part of the day where it is just not as active because its been fed, or is in the portion of the day where keepers aren’t dropping by. Take into account also the natural history of an animal and the percentage of time it may spend not moving. Casting judgment on the animal welfare standards of a particular zoo by a short observation is hardly fair.

Answers to challenge

Photos from captivity

1 Colobus monkey (Paignton Zoo)
2 Lions (Colorado Animal Sanctuary) They have acres to roam!
5 Gibbon (Dierenrijk)

Photos from the wild

3 Savanna Baboon (Chobe, Botswana)

4 Polar bear (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada)

6 Elephant (Pilanesberg game reserve)


Sometimes animals get sad..

Just like in your daily life, there are highs and lows for animals. It is possible that sometimes animals can be 'sad' about something, or stressed due to some change in their environment.

Animals do have their own lives outside of your zoo visit, and many things may be going on that could result in an animal(s) not being in the best mood while you're viewing it.

Happy snake?

Source

Is it ever OK to judge a zoo exhibit?

Yes, as long as you take an informed approach. It is important for the public to discern right from wrong and object to poor animal welfare...BUT...the tricky part is fairly determining that this is taking place when you aren't exactly an expert on how a specific animal should be kept or its normal behavior.

Each species has unique needs, and animals are also individuals with different histories. For instance, stereotypical behavior may occur in animals that were rescued from poor environments that will persist in their new location (occurrence of these behaviors are complicated, more on that later). Please refrain from taking a 'know-it-all' approach after taking a quick glimpse of the animal. Also, do not assume that an animal doesn't have access to more space other than what is visible before you. Always listen attentively to the people who deal with this animal day after day, as they are likely to have far more insight. Don't profess to be an animal mind reader, and be objective. Beware of emotional projection.

Grieving elephants

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Comments 79 comments

WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 3 years ago

This was a good article, and that chimp picture made me LOL. I was joking with my mom once when she was watching an animal shelter commercial showing sad looking dogs as it played a very sad song. I said I could make even my very happy, content, spoiled pup look positively heart breaking if I took pictures of it laying around and played a slideshow of them with sad music. It's true.

If I were an animal, I'd want to live in a zoo. I know there have been unethical zoos and I'm not condoning that, but many major zoos take good care of them-- they get good medical care, food, no predators-- I would probably rather live at Animal Kingdom's safari in Disney than in the real wild if I were a deer or a lion.

Great hub!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks WiccanSage, I totally agree.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Hi Amazing thinker. Please...re-read this hub.


AMAZING THINKER profile image

AMAZING THINKER 3 years ago from Home

I commented on the wrong hub. I have a different tab open, can you hide that comment? B.T.W This one is interesting!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Sure


Seshagopalan profile image

Seshagopalan 3 years ago from Chennai, Tamil Nadu

wa wa wa :) what a thinking.. Great hub!! Keep writing melissa..


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks


gpishev profile image

gpishev 3 years ago from Bulgaria

Sad and true. How can an animal be happy when locked for people entertaining? They do not belong there.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Please re-read this hub gpishev.


younghopes profile image

younghopes 3 years ago from India

This was an interesting hub, as a child i have visited lots of zoos and used to enjoy there, but now i feel bad about these animals who are devoid of freedom, voted up


wayct12 profile image

wayct12 3 years ago

It's tough keeping animals captive without 'domesticating' them. I like being able to see the animals but it is a conflicting feeling that I'm contributing to them being locked up. You have to commend institutions that do their best to accommodate their animals needs - that's the feeling I get from san diego zoos.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

That's what all zoos should aim to do. It's not likely that most animals would find 'freedom' as important as you would if they have all their needs provided.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

O my. My heart aches for animals in zoos especially when they are confined to such an extent they barely have room to move around. I rarely go to zoos for that reason.

It breaks my heart when I see a majestic elephant pacing up and down, up and down in a tiny confined space longing for her homeland.

In all fairness I know there are places where animals are giving more space and are treated well.

Thanks for sharing this.

Angels are on the way to you and to all of the precious animals in zoos.

ps


thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 3 years ago from East Coast

Excellent hub. You are correct to point out that the way we humans view emotional states cannot accurately be transferred to an animal. Animals have evolved in their own way, a smile is not always a smile as we know it in the animal kingdom. Great photos!


thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 3 years ago from India

Great hub.

these animals look sad.


JoyLevine profile image

JoyLevine 3 years ago

This was a very well written and fair article. I can identify with many things you say. I have a split view on some things, but agree with everything you have said. In effect, I prefer seeing any animal wild and free, but if they are captive, as long as they are cared for by people who truly care about the animal, I see nothing wrong with it.

The truth is, I think that zoos and museums are necessary, in a sense. These animals serve as ambassadors for their species respectively, and without the opportunity of getting to see them up close, many would not be inspired to learn about them or care. These parks are where some children and adults are touched by one or more animals and they make changes in their own lives and perhaps influence others.

Sometimes animals are rescued and cannot be released back into the wild. This is unfortunate, but they now they can live out their life cared for. This is only sad for me because I know these animals knew the freedom of being wild, just as an animal captured from the wild and brought to an establishment would. But from my observance of many animals, animals don't tend to live in the past, they live more in the present, the here and now.

I do prefer to see animals in captivity that were raised in captivity, but that is just my own opinion.

I appreciate the way you presented the material, especially how people are so quick to jump to conclusions. I worked at a Science Center and at one point I was hosting an exhibit on Swamps of the Southeast in which we cared for over 40 animals. Among those were some mammals, such as a bobcat, skunk, raccoon, and opossum.

People were very quick to make statements about the enclosures, which I understand. They were good size, but not what you would consider for permanent habitats. What they didn't realize is that these animals had plenty of one on one enrichment and play time in much larger areas both before and after visiting hours. We had an entire outside closed in area with a river and trees that was an outside playground. I used to take the animals out there, one by one after hours. The skunk and raccoon would both just follow me out there and walk with me up and down the empty halls after hours. The skunk was my baby & she was usually on my shoulders as I carried out my chores before work.

The simple truth is that we never know what goes on behind the scenes and it is easy to judge things we do not know. I've been guilty myself from time to time. After working at the Science Center, it made me much more understanding, realizing we don't know everything at face value.

I think the only time to worry is when you see animals in very small enclosures and they are doing the 'cribbing' or 'rocking.' Even then, it could be a throwback to a bad past, but that's generally a sign of stress.

Very interesting article. Thank you. Sorry for such a long comment... I feel strongly about this. :)


Relationshipc profile image

Relationshipc 3 years ago from Alberta, Canada

I understand that animals can look sad when they are just sitting around, bored, or thinking, but I don't get where you got your facts from.

For instance, "Most animals (or non-humans, for lack of a better term), perceive a barrier but do not associate the same emotional intensity with these structures. Humans on the other hand project their emotions with cages (or tanks) to animals."

How do you know? When my dog gets locked in his kennel, he sometimes does not want to be in there and he tries to tell me in no uncertain terms. He is very upset that he is a cage. So, where did you do the research to back up your statement?


Knightheart profile image

Knightheart 3 years ago from MIssouri, USA

Hello,

I agree that most animals in a zoo lead miserable lives, devoid of stimulation. To see the big cats and primates confined to tiny areas is heartbreaking, although I believe all animals caged is a terrible thing. Animals do get depressed and not only zoo animals. I worked in an animal shelter for years and saw the effects of caged adult dogs and cats daily. It was very sad to see these animals live for long periods of time confined and isolated. The dogs, social animals by nature, are never together in a cage...but isolated. Some animals get 'cage disease' or something like that, when confined for long periods of time. They become frustrated and vicious and then have to euthanized since they cannot be adopted. I have seen this with cats often and it just breaks my heart. As to anyone that says animals do not feel emotions or understand confinement is full of it!

Animals are God's creations, and they were not created to sit in a zoo or in captivity for our pleasure! Human brutality has wiped out many species, and more are on the endangered list because we keep taking their natural habitats away. I love animals and even though we are a 'higher form' of life, animals are not property, objects, or toys. They are living beings that feel pain, sadness, and depression. Animals do mourn the death of their own or other living things. It is a documented fact, so those that say animals don't understand is wrong!

KH


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

thoughtfulgirl2, thanks for actually reading the hub :)


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Great comment JoyLevine. I agree. Even I can sometimes be guilty of judging enclosure or settings that are not permanent.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

It's not something that I can really 'research' Relationshipc. It makes sense to me given the psychology and natural history of animals.

Humans have many negative associations with cages that are more substantial than inhibition of movement because of our unparallelled awareness. My dog seemingly protests to going into the kennel, but what's really going on is that she's focused on the meaning of being told to go in--it means that we're leaving the house. All I meant with that statement is that animals are not 'thinking' about their confined lives in the same perspective of a human which makes it so adverse to us.

They may want to get out if they are afraid (such as when they are newly introduced or the environment is suboptimal) or desire something on the outside, such as in my dog's case, to try to leave with us. Animals think 'in the now'. When does your dog get put in a crate? You are probably either leaving or preventing him from doing something undesirable.


Deb Welch 3 years ago

Good Article - True. However many Zoos are totally fantastic with acres and acres of land for a natural habitat one is the Toronto Zoo, then of course there are the Zoos not giving the animals the right kind of existence. Our local zoo doesn't have the proper space for bison, elephants or giraffe and I believe they are bored. At least they have each other and they must get used to the daily routine just like humans. Useful and Interesting - Up - Thanks.


StephanieBCrosby profile image

StephanieBCrosby 3 years ago from New Jersey

Congratulations on your Hub of the Day.

I love the balanced and unbiased approach you take here. As you say, it can be quite easy to judge the state of a being if you are not familiar with all the possible variations of behavior, expression, etc.


WhiteMuse profile image

WhiteMuse 3 years ago from San Francisco

I think the monkeys can be quite entertained by humans. Some of them are supposed to throw things as many of them do.

It is partly true what you are saying I think. It does depend on the zoo. Some are terrible I think. I remember the one with the apes in the Bronx zoo.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Deb Welch. I think 'animal boredom' is pretty difficult to determine without scientific analysis.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Stephanie, I do acknowledge that animal boredom/distress happens in some zoos. Unfortunately the resolvability of this situation will depend on the expertise of the keeper.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

WhiteMuse, what about the Bronx Zoo? I think they are very good. The gorillas there do not show any signs of distress from my observation.


LadyFae profile image

LadyFae 3 years ago from Under the Stars

Good hub but those animals should not live in a zoo, they should be living in the wild. That's where they belong and they should not be locked up so that humans can be entertained. How would you feel if you were put in a cage and people would be looking at your every move?

I never go to a zoo and don't take my children there either, way to heartbreaking. I've seen most of the animals that are being kept in zoos in the wild and then to see them in a confined space such as a zoo totally blows my mind. Horrible!!!

And of course their faces don't show whether they're sad or happy but you can sense their energy. And their energy is not the way it should be.


Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara Kay 3 years ago from USA

This is an interesting article. I really enjoyed it. Some animals are happy in a contained area. A good example are our dogs. A fenced in area makes them feel more secure.

We watched what I think were gorillas at a zoo. The male enjoyed picking his nose and the attention he got when everyone thought it was gross. The females had babies and it was obvious the people made them nervous. Without the babies maybe they would have enjoyed the attention too.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

If you read the hub LadyFae, you'd see I also included a little tidbit about alleged 'energy' from animals which I will repeat. Animals that are habituated to the presence of humans will certainly not be as alert and active as those you may see in the wild. Believe it or not, animals in the wild have their 'down times' and this happens when strange primates are not in their presence.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Hi Barbara Kay, male gorillas certainly seem to enjoy 'hamming it up' for visitors. I'm not sure if this is a display of territoriality. The dominant male at the Bronx Zoo is a great example of this.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

You make some valid points, and it's true that anthropomorphism plays a part in peoples' perceptions. A case in point is the current "viral" phenomenon of "Grumpy Cat," who shows up all over Face Book with assorted cranky captions of being in a bad mood, when in point of fact, the kitty is very sweet and social, but her facial expression is caused by a form of feline dwarfism.

That said, I'm still not a fan of zoos and keeping in captivity animals who should be wild such as lions, elephants, and the like. Regardless of the quality of care they may receive, or the type of exhibit, they are still confined to a much, much smaller area than they would inhabit in their natural environment, and I do not believe this is healthy for them in the long run. You must remember--there is more to life than simple longevity--quality of life must also come into account.

To take the view that animals 'don't care,' or 'don't experience feelings or emotions' is but a convenient thing to believe for those who would confine these magnificent beasts. Animals do, indeed, possess feelings and emotions--that can be seen in the elephant video you've provided; (and I don't approve of one of the keepers having a cattle prod at the ready...), it can also be seen in another video I've seen, of a squirrel standing over the body of a dead mate (or offspring or friend), scolding all the passing cars because one of them was the cause of the companion's demise.....


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Hi DzyMsLizzy, it is true that captive animals are nearly always confined to less room than in their wild environments, however most animals navigate such room out of necessity. Have you considered that if there was a small area filled with endless water and variable food items, that many animals would not roam as far? Longevity is important to consider, because many animals that fare poorly in captivity do not live long, as stress hampers the immune system considerably. Some animals, such as meerkats which I've just written about, can double their lifespan in captivity. Their wild lives consists of always being terrified about inevitable pending death.

I posted the elephant to show an acknowledgement of 'animal emotion'. Elephants have much higher cognition over something like say, a squirrel. I would be very, very skeptical about the example you provided, espcially the 'scolding' of the cars aspect of it. For an animal to possess such awareness, I wonder why they wouldn't have enough to start learning to avoid passing cars. Also, that was not a cattle prong, but a bullhook, also called the ankus, Peter Dickinson has a good hub about this item, look up 'ankus' on this site.


rose-the planner profile image

rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

Congratulations on HOTD, well deserved! This is a brilliant article filled with interesting information. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks rose!


LadyFae profile image

LadyFae 3 years ago from Under the Stars

Melissa, I read your hub and stick to my statement because I have actually seen and lived with some of those animals in the wild.

Zoos should be closed down.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Yes, LadyFae, I'm sure you're the only person who has seen animals in the wild. As for lived with, well unless these animals were pets which I'm sure you disagree with you must be referring to animals that pass by your presence/territory and this article address that as well.


Relationshipc profile image

Relationshipc 3 years ago from Alberta, Canada

Melissa you seem very sure of yourself but unwilling to let in anyone elses opinion or experience. You even mention in the article that you want people to refrain from taking a "know-it-all approach", but that is the only approach YOU are taking.

LadyFae never said she is the only person who has seen animals in the wild...what a rude and immature thing for you to say. In fact, a lot of your comments have been full of arrogance.

Your approach on such as sensitive issue is very annoying and non-factual. The more I think about it, the more respect I lose for whoever picks these hubs.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Hi Relationshipc, I responded that way because LadyFae wrote "Zoos should be closed down". Since you agree with her, you probably failed to recognize that this was also 'rude'.

And also the reason given, because she has seen wild animals, was insubstantial. I would be happy to hear her extrapolate that sentence, instead of imploring me, a person who obviously cares strongly about zoos, that I'm wrong because of some unspecified experience she had.

Hub pages has no control over my responses. I imagine that if this Hub was what you expected it to be (another article deriding zoos and showing sad pictures to make its point) you'd find it to be just great.


Better Yourself profile image

Better Yourself 3 years ago from North Carolina

Wonderful Hub, well done! I'm a huge animal lover and this is a great, new perspective on animals in zoos that I have not seen addressed before. We are limited to our experience of just walking through the zoo, which can create a judgement on how the animals are being treated and their living conditions. While there are people who do abuse and neglect animals, and force them into less than adequate living conditions it isn't always the case and the amount of time, energy and money some zoos put into creating environments for the animals I find it hard to believe that we should be so quick to judge. Congrats on HOTD!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Better Yourself, glad you appreciated it.


Mr C O Jones 3 years ago

This article reads like it was written by someone with Asperger's Syndrome. Doesn't the opening comment that 'Even I, before finally adopting a dog, found the behavioral patterns of that species was foreign (I’m isolated socially, and to this day have never held a cat).' set any alarm bells ringing with all you gullible fools? You see, Melissa wouldn't know whether an animal looks bored or not, because she cannot interpret facial expressions in humans.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Mr C O Jones (have we met?) that sentence was effed up, I needed to remove that 'was', sigh. I don't think I have Asperger's Syndrome, if I did I think I may have caught that, they're pretty good with grammar. Then again, it's not really proper to judge someone on such a diagnoses, as they vary tremendously. Unlike humans, most animals do NOT communicate with their face like we do, or they have entirely different meanings.


Mr C O Jones 3 years ago

My pleasure Melissa, always happy to help, but I still don’t get what you meant by that sentence 'Even I, before finally adopting a dog, found the behavioral patterns of that species was foreign (I’m isolated socially, and to this day have never held a cat)’

Does that ‘even I’ imply that even you, this great, knowledgeable expert on animals couldn’t fathom out dog behaviour, so how can the rest of us hope to? Or does it imply that even I, this ‘simple’ and ‘socially isolated person’ found dogs a mystery, so how can the rest of us hope to?

Please clarify.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

It means that while I have a decent understanding of animal behavior, the only way to REALLY get to know an animal is by caring for it or being around it all the time. I am not an 'expert'.


Kiki 3 years ago

Brilliant hub Melissa. I am a qualified animal behaviourist and mammal / ape keeper and I fully back it. I'm afraid that the posts by many on here simply show their lack if understanding and education on the matter and I would not take it to heart. Reading your well put article shows you do know what you're talking about and if just one person goes away having learnt, then fab! And to the anti-zoo brigade, zoos aren't about having animals entertain you anymore, please don't think so highly of yourselves, zoos are a breeding network creating a back up as us humans are destroying the wild. Just think if the only place these animals existed was the wild, then a hell of a lot more species would be extinct!! Rant over!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks for the comment Kiki! I would think people would be happy to hear that animals may not be sad in zoos. It's as though they wish for them not to be because it doesn't adhere to their idealized vision of how things should be.


Kristen 3 years ago

Great article!

I am a zookeeper working with parrots and reptiles.

I have to say that I would love to see a day when zoos were all closed down. But the reality is that, that is not possible, many animals have little to no natural habitat left or at extreme risk for poaching for bushmeat/medicine. Without the breeding programs that take place in reputable zoos many of these species would have no chance. Even if a piece of land is secured in order to release animals back into their natural habitat zoo animal breeding programs are required to ensure genetic diversity. Take the Rhino for example, some of those animals had to be removed from the wild and placed in zoos because they were being slaughtered to extinction.

Zoos also play a large role in education, you can't convince people to help wild animals if they have never had an experience with animals, and have never seen some of these exotic animals up close.

My question to those people that don't go to zoos and don't support them. Do you support conservation organizations that are actively trying to help wild animals? Do you have an exotic pet (bird, reptile, rodent)?

Melissa this is a great article and I hope people read it and then think the next time they visit a zoo.

I know I have had people tell me my snakes are depressed and aren't doing anything. I then try to tell them that pythons are ambush predators and even in the wild they don't do anything but sit around waiting for food to come close. These snakes are well fed and so they are doing what snakes do best . . . nothing!

If you want a real life example of a zoo helping wild animals check out the Toronto Zoo's work with Black-footed Ferrets


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

"I have to say that I would love to see a day when zoos were all closed down."

Well thanks for the compliments, but I don't understand this at all. Like you said, your snakes aren't 'suffering' from being in a cage, they simply don't lead active lifestyles. If zoos were closed down than many people would be out of their jobs and millions of people will no longer be able to see the animals, and for what? Because people insist an animal can't be happy in captivity? Well I think they're wrong, or I wouldn't have written this. Some animals don't do so well in captivity but that doesn't negate the hundreds that do.


Amy 3 years ago

Great article!!! I completely agree with all of it. Like it has been said there are those few zoos that may not be the greatest but I think for the most part zoos take great care of their animals. And almost all try and do some kind of enrichment for them. I am actually going to school to be a zoo keeper so I do understand a lot of what you are saying. And thank you for saying it!!!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Amy


Audrey 3 years ago

Great post! Anthropomorphizing animals helps us connect with them in a way, but understanding how they actually behave connects us on a better level. It's too bad some are commenting in support of the "zoo animals" are sad mantra; it's obvious they did not thoroughly read your insightful post. Along your same lines, this had been doing the rounds: http://audreysnaturequestphotography.wordpress.com...


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Audrey! Your link is insightful as well.


Kate 3 years ago

WOW. Thank you so much. This is great. As an animal keeper, it's incredibly frustrating when people assume my animals are abused or sad, when they really don't realize anything. Why are those dolphins staring through the gated hole in the back? Because they're nosy, and watching the others. They'd rather be in the back, which is tiny and shallow compared to their viewing pool, because they feel safer that way.

I'm bookmarking this!!


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Kate, dolphin keepers get a lot of criticism. I can only imagine.


Get a clue 3 years ago

Melissa A Smith 2 months ago from New York Hub Author

"Yes, LadyFae, I'm sure you're the only person who has seen animals in the wild. "

Kind of a douchey thing to say to somebody, yeah? She was just voicing her opinion in a comments section.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

She was expressing a polarized opinion from my attempted defense of a commonly bashed subject with typical little substance, so she shouldn't have expected a cheery response. I'm completely aware of people with her sentiments.


nightpaws 3 years ago

Some cognitive dissonance going on here. Makes you feel better about keeping exotic animals captive, huh?

Stay in your room for your entire life see how "happy" you are.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

I keep seeing people throw that word around to try and discredit someone else from having an opinion that is not inline with their animal rights beliefs. Yes it does make me 'feel better' to know the truth, that invalid emotional projection is the reason for most people exclaiming that animals are 'sad' in zoos. I would also not be very 'happy' to be a gazelle in the wild who would inevitably be killed by a predator. If you're going to attribute my mental experience to animals, that furthers the argument that they should be removed from nature, as I want no part of it.


To some of the others that have commented: 3 years ago

An open letter to some of those who have already commented:

Guys... animals that are in Zoos and Aquariums DO NOT belong in the wild. Not anymore. They have grown up in this setting, and do not know how to survive the harsh reality of the wild. Most animals these days, especially in the US, were born there... their parents were born there... etc. So... they actually belong in the Zoo/Aquarium now. Just like how YOU belong in a city, with your grocery store, with your air conditioned house. What if someone one day decided that you weren't "free" and threw you out into the woods to be a hunter-gatherer? Life in a facility (if it's a good one) is great, and I've often envied the pampered lifestyle of those animals.

And I think many of you missed the point of this article about NOT projecting your thoughts and emotions onto those animals.

Seriously... how is going to a Zoo a sad experience? Because you're making up emotions for the animals instead of looking objectively at what's actually going on. So... stop. Go talk to the people that actually work with them.

Sincerely, me.

P.S. This post is brilliant. Great work.


John 2 years ago

I feel like half the people who commented on here are just miserable griefers who want zoos closed because, in their almighty opinions, the animals are sad and unhappy. As a bird keeper, if I held birds to the same behavioral standards I hold humans to, i would probably think they were all deranged as well. But since I'm a rational and sane person, I understand that animals are not people and have different needs, desires, and ways of expressing themselves. Keep up the fantastic work, Melissa. Your Blackfish article was stupendous. You freaking get it.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks John, I was surprised that Hubpages chose this controversial subject as hub of the day, but that wasn't my decision!


Cristina 2 years ago

I used to think the size of an enclosure was an issue many captive animals faced (and I'm not talking about obviously small enclosures, I'm referring to enclosures that meet AZA standards for that species). And then I read an article in the book "Animal Training" by Ken Ramirez that made a great point: Animals that travel great distances in the wild and that maintain large territories are for the most part only doing so for the sake of hunting and finding prey. So for a captive animal that is fed all the food it can possibly want to eat, is the need for an enclosure that is perhaps miles wide and long really necessary? It definitely changed my viewpoint on the matter.

Anyway, this is a great article and I will surely be passing this along to others who may have the stereotypical viewpoint of captive animals


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Hi Cristina, thank you for your comment. I also don't think that most migrating animals 'need' to travel the distances they do in the wild, yet you may be facing some issues regarding their physical well-being if they are under exercised (one example, obesity and foot disease in captive elephants). Also animals need something to do if they aren't being 'stimulated' by trying to survive. Their routine must have replacement enrichment, which of course is the reason many zoos are attempting to provide this. So it depends on the animal. I think a decent amount of acres can please a free-ranging animal (too bad killer whales can't be provided this). It's not about giving them a replica of their environment in the wild (every attempt would be an obvious failure), but giving them what they 'need'. Animals adapt just like we do, and some may actually prefer the ease of captivity living just as we prefer modern convenience over hunting and growing everything that we eat. Loss of one freedom yields another (animals in the wild do not have freedom from being guaranteed to always have plentiful food and water, like they typically do in zoos)


Cristina 2 years ago

Oh trust me, I am aware. I was simply addressing the argument that many people make against animals being in captivity as a space issue. Enrichment goes a long way in terms of keeping an animal mentally and physically stimulated, as well as husbandry training programs where they are applicable. It's really great that more and more zoos are taking steps towards better their animals lives through different types of enrichment.


Warhead77777 2 years ago

Thanks again, this makes it a lot easier to understand my pet Rabbit and our local Phx Zoo.


ArtDiva profile image

ArtDiva 2 years ago from Yountville, CA

Well written and informative article.

Personally, I would love to see animals running free in the wild. If they could talk, do you wonder how the conversation would go?


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

ArtDiva-- Thanks...if they could talk, they wouldn't be animals. Captivity basically gives animals exactly what they want, but many are likely not aware of the good deal they're getting.


Snakesmum profile image

Snakesmum 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

Enjoyed your article - voted up.

Zoos are necessary. Without them, some animals would be extinct. An example is the helmeted honeyeater, here in Victoria, Australia, which is critically endangered. Without zoos, it would probably be extinct by now, but because of captive breeding, birds have been released into the wild, and the population is now a little larger.

I visit the three zoos in Victoria quite often, and there are very rarely bored looking animals about - the keepers to the great lengths to enrich their environments. Sometimes I think the animals are just as interested in watching the people as the people are in watching the animals.

I guess we all tend to anthropomorphise on occasions though, and some animals naturally look sad, while others look happy. My snakes don't really have much change of expression, but they are well fed, and I imagine they are content! They couldn't survive in the wild, that's for sure.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks a lot Snakesmum!


Akriti Mattu profile image

Akriti Mattu 19 months ago from Shimla, India

This is an interesting take, although i personally feel that animals are always more happy in the wild. Nevertheless, good post :)


Frida Nyberg profile image

Frida Nyberg 16 months ago from Sweden

Mr C O Jones - Old comment, but still.

I have Asperger's, and I find this insulting. Most of us have poor abilities to tell body language in HUMANS, but I for one have enhanced abilities to tell the body language of non-humans. (To me, most people are "autistic" in regards to animals.)


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 16 months ago from New York Author

The guy's a cat whack that hates me because we've been arguing for years over outdoor cat roaming on Amazon. I don't know if he believes the garbage that comes out of his mouth but he will say anything to attack me.


sujaya venkatesh profile image

sujaya venkatesh 12 months ago

a good insight


Jezalin 11 months ago

Personally I think this article doesn't even prove a point we all know that animals in zoos are totally sad BECUASE they are used to living with packs hunting and or having a lot more free space, zoos can not give that to them they only teach them to do tricks by hitting them. And when the animal dies some zoos leave it there to rot


Juan Garcia 11 months ago

The little wild vs captivity challenge gave me an idea for a video. Thanks.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 11 months ago from New York Author

Glad I could help Juan.


nawlins 10 months ago

I think that when wild animals are caged, they have been treated cruelly. Period. When wild animals are forced to live in cages, to perform via inhumane 'training,' etc., they are abused and that should end. Are zoos good? Certainly, IF they mimic the animals' natural habitat so that the animals are free within their exhibits.


Valene profile image

Valene 2 months ago from Missouri

Very informative! I love zoos but sometimes I've been tempted to take this view of their captivity being cruel. This article points out a lot of important things to consider before making that judgement!

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