Animal Protection > Worldwide Actions > New Zealand


'What's happening at the ZOO?


"The simple basis of my opposition to captivity in zoos is that we are holding animals there in grossly unnatural, debilitating and aberrant circumstances. None of their beauty and force and intelligence is apparent. Confined, frustrated, performing the ritualistic and often dangerous damaging behaviour of acute boredom, they caricature the real thing."

Professor Euan C. Young, Head of Department of Zoology
Auckland University, New Zealand.

Stereotypical Behaviour

This is common is captive animals, even human ones. For something to do, an elephant will rock and swing for hours. Bears, dogs and cats pace; monkeys stare; rhinos circle. Anthropod apes will eat faeces and gorillas their own vomit. Bar-biting and rail-sucking are both common in imprisoned bears and giraffes. This repetitive, apparently senseless behaviour indicates neurosis or even insanity. It is caused by boredom, loneliness, frustration, stress and psychological and habitat deprivation.

Death and Disease at the Zoo

There is a high incidence of death and disease in animals in zoo captivity. In one four-month period over 30 animals died at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. These included parrots, rosellas, lorikeets, pheasants, eagle, monkey, antelope, dogs, otters, kangaroo, sitatunga, deer, jaguar, leopard, chimpanzee and orang-utan.

They died because of: Unnatural food and/or insufficient variety of food

Unnatural feeding patterns - Zoo animals are fed once or twice daily. In the wild, many animals feed constantly during their waking hours and their digestive tracts are suited to this. An elephant can spend up to 20 hours a day searching for food.

Inbreeding - Smithsonian Institution researchers Ballou and Ralls were "able to demonstrate conclusively decreased survival and fertility - general lack of vigour - of inbred stocks in 11 out of 12 species."


In Bristol Zoo in the UK, two polar bears called Nina and Misha have been confined in a tiny concrete enclosure for 28 years. They are described as being in a psychotic state. ÒZoocheckÓ an organisation founded by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (Born Free) discovered that more than 60% of polar bears in British zoos are mentally deranged and cubs born in zoos are twice as likely to die as those in the wild.

Education and Research

Zoos claim they fulfil an educational function. Is this true? Not in the opinion of those who really know animals in the wild. Vice President of the International Trust for Nature Conservation, Sir Christopher Lever, has been taking safari groups out to East Africa for many years. He says that once participants see animals in their true environment in the wild, their opinion is unanimous - animals in zoos are a parody of the real thing. Any good wildlife film would give a better impression.

Like us, animals are shaped and formed by the conditions of their environment. After many months and years of captivity in a zoo, without interest, without variety, without challenge, most animals, birds and reptiles lost their natural characteristics. They cease to be representative of their species. They become in effect, mad.

"The educational and protective premise of zoos is false and self-deceiving. The natural activities of animals - stalking, foraging and interaction with other species - are impossible in the confines of a zoo, no matter how benevolent.

"Captive breeding programs that do not return animals to preserved habitat are futile and perverse."

D. Phillips & S. Kaiser "Not Man Apart"

Captive Breeding Programs

Zoos around the world are claiming to be the lifeline for endangered species with their captive breeding programs. The implication is that these species will be reintroduced into the wild. But will they be?

When habitat itself is diminishing, talk of preserving captive species in order to restore them to it has not weight. Collectors selling animals to zoos know the market. Once an animal becomes rare, zoos are increasingly keen to acquire it. Collectors will hunt it to extinction to satisfy that demand.

Great apes are still caught as infants and a whole family will be killed for each baby captured. These infants themselves mostly die before they reach the market. The single way to save species is to preserve their habitat.

But around the world, the actual reintroduction of species has been miniscule. Zoo officials admit it.

"The 1986 list of endangered species totals 2,422. Worldwide, zoos contain nearly 3,000 species, of which only 66 are part of an endangered species program controlled by registered stud books.

"Zoos cannot justify themselves in this way. The role they play in conservation is minimal."

Will Travers (Born Free)

By conservative reckoning, if ecosystem destruction continues at the present rate, up to TWO MILLION plant, animal and insect species will be extinct by the year 2000. Captive breeding and zoos are not the answer to the problem. Protection of habitat and ecosystems is the only way to halt extinction.