For many, visiting the zoo is an experience like no other. Watching in awe as these creatures move and interact with their surroundings, something that many people would not see if these animals were in their natural habitats. As a child, visiting the zoo was an incredible event, but as we grow older, we start to have a different perspective on these animals and zoos, and in particular, how they are actually a prison for animals.
Deprived of their natural surroundings, the freedom and space that they once had, these animals now restricted to a smaller space, and even the largest of spaces, provided by zoos, are simply not large enough. Most zoo enclosures often disregard the natural needs of the animals, often eliminating natural behaviours such as hunting and mating. This restriction in space and freedom can lead to a condition called “zoochosis”, which is often brought on from the animal being bored and lonely, and is not helped by the fact that some carers even abuse these poor animals.
Zoochosis’ psychological effect on the animals can often lead to the animals resorting to self-abuse, with the animals often biting or scratching their skin. The restrictive spaces brought on by zoos can also have a lasting effect on the physical condition of the animals, for example, an elephant name Lucy, who was stuck inside the Edmonton Zoo for several months, due the poor weather conditions. With Edmonton’s winters being below freezing and that elephants shouldn’t have to suffer winters of the North (Detroit Zoological, 2001) ultimately leaving Lucy to develop arthritis.
So why do we put these animals in these terrible living conditions?
Well, to put it in simple terms, the money.
There are some private-non-profit zoos that are dependent on donations and memberships, however, most zoos are functioning for pure financial gain. In 2013, a report by a professor at George Mason University had found that over 160 million people had visited American zoos across the country, making billions for these zoos. Most of these zoos do no invest that much money into the monitoring and animal care of the animals. The monetary gains made by these zoos may benefit the companies behind the scenes, but at what cost does it help the animals?
Most zoos claim that they are providing the public with educational opportunities, however this is not the case. Most people would benefit educationally from watching animals in their actual habitat rather than spending a few minutes reading a small display. This belief from zoos that they are educating their visitors is false, as the visitors are simply more entertained by the presence of the animal rather than learning about the animal (Booth, 1991). Television shows and documentaries are much better than zoos for educational purposes, along with the fact that the animals are in their natural habitat and the main point of these pieces of media are to inform and educate their audience.
So how can social media help in the fight against zoos?
With social media being the juggernaut that it is, there is now a platform for groups like PETA to promote their beliefs and messages to a wider audience. Social media also provides a platform for users to connect with others that have the same values as them. Across all social media platforms, there are many pages and groups dedicated to protecting animals from cruelty.
Currently, PETA have over 400 thousand followers on Instagram, and over 5 million likes on their Facebook page. With an audience that large and how accessible it is to interact with organisations like PETA, their blogs, articles and videos can now be shared by millions of people, and continue to grow. If PETA utilise social media as they have been and continue to promote the reality of zoos, and the cruel disease of “zoochosis”, there will be enough support behind them to potentially close zoos in the future.
‘Big Beasts, Tight Space And a Call For Change’, 2003, New York Times, vol. 152, no. 52624, p. A26.
Detroit Zoological Institute, “Detroit Zoo Intends to Send Elephants to Elephant Sanctuary,” PR Newswire, 20 May 2004.
William Booth, “Naked Ape New Zoo Attraction; Surprise Results From People-Watching Study,” The Washington Post 14 Mar. 1991