Are animals in zoos happy? Are zoos harmful to animals? Just like there are disturbing facts about circus animals, there are heartbreaking truths about zoo animals. While you might not want to think about this when planning a fun day trip to your local zoo, zoo animal abuse is shockingly common and it is important that society is aware of it. While some zoos work hard to provide safe and enriching environments for the creatures in their care, other zoos mentally break animals.
Zoo psychology problems can range from inappropriate diets and enclosures that are too small to beating animals to make them do tricks. Some of the worst cases include euthanizing animals when they don't fit into a zoo's breeding program. Sadly, many zoos are more about human entertainment than animal welfare and bad practices can be outright deadly for the animals involved.
In some zoos, animals have a utilitarian function. They might be there to provide entertainment or they might be there to meet breeding goals. If the zoo can't figure out a purpose for the animal, they might decide to get rid of them. While this can mean releasing them into the wild, it can also mean killing them.
The practice of killing surplus animals isn't exclusive to zoos. Walk into any publicly funded animal shelter and you'll find exactly the same thing with cats and dogs. While this is depressing, for underfunded institutions, it's a practice that can be hard to avoid because of issues like overpopulation. However, for institutions that don't struggle as much with funding, a more humane solution would be sterilizing animals so that their populations don't get out of control.
Some zoos perform live dissections of animals for audiences of school children. That's exactly what Denmark's Odense Zoo, and other European zoos, do on a regular basis. The reason has to do with education - these institutions want to provide children with hands-on learning experiences. While this can be valuable, it's still pretty gruesome. Watch here at your own caution - it is very graphic.
Like humans, many animals are capable of forming deep, long-lasting bonds with one another. Zoo animals are no exception, but many zoos do not make preserving these relationships a priority. For example, Nikita and Jason, two chimpanzees living in India's Lucknow Zoo, formed a deep friendship that was sustained over twenty years. Because the pair failed to produce offspring, Lucknow Zoo decided to separate them, hoping that new matchups would work out better.
Some animal activists worry that the separation will be traumatic. Kamna Pandey, a member of Animal Welfare Board of India, claims that pulling them apart amounts to animal cruelty. The same thing happened to Shaba and Connie, two different species of elephants whose friendship spanned thirty years, but were separated so that they could be with their own kind. These practices aren't in the interest of the animal's well-being - they're in the interest of the zoo.
One major problem for animals in captivity is that they're bored out of their minds. While some zoos go to great lengths to provide enrichment, others do not. Animals who aren't able to engage with the natural world need replacement activities to stay happy and healthy. Bored or anxious animals can develop repetitive tics, which is a stereotypic behavior.
Humans do this as well. Have you ever sat through a boring class or meeting, and found yourself tapping your pen against the side of your desk? Now, imagine that your whole life is that boring class or meeting, and you might be able to fathom what these zoo animals go through. Stereotypic behaviors can range from movements like pacing and rocking back and forth, to self-harming actions like pulling out fur and bashing body parts against objects.