Zoos should not exist because they cause physical and mental abuse to animals. Zoos are thought to be educational and fun for children and adults alike, however, they are the opposite for animals trapped in their small enclosures, fed unnatural diets, forced to participate in tricks or activities that they are uncomfortable with, and suffer from behavioural problems. It is unethical, unnatural, and selfish to imprison animals in zoos for humans to profit and to learn.
Physical abuse occurs in zoos. Animals are kept in small enclosures that are not suitable for their sizes, and they are often cramped with other animals as well. This causes them to develop behavioural problems, such as pacing, self-harm, refusing to eat, and fighting with other animals in their enclosures. These behaviours can be observed by seeing animals walk back and forth or in circles for hours, biting or scratching themselves excessively, or ripping their own fur off. Animals also suffer physical abuse by zoo keepers when they are frustrated. Animals are forced into situations that are not natural for them and are physically punished when they resist. A good way to measure if something is ethical or natural is if an animal must be sedated in order to get them to do something (such as take photos with zoo guests), then they are not naturally supposed to be doing it. Furthermore, the diets of animals in zoos are not adequate for their natural needs. They are given food that is prepared by zoo keepers rather than allowing animals to hunt their own prey or gather food as they would in their natural habitat. Animals can never be released back into the wild once they have experienced captivity because they are unable and are not used to hunt and scavenge on their own. Finally, animals are often starved in an attempt to train them. They are persuaded into performing tricks in exchange for their food. At certain zoos or aquariums, animals are not fed unless they listen to their trainers, therefore going through the day unfed until they learn.
The mental health of animals is compromised in zoos and in captivity. For example, orcas dorsal fins curve after experiencing life in a small tank due to extreme stress. Orcas living in their natural habitat (i.e. the ocean) have a dorsal fin that stands up straight. These large animals normally swim around 100 miles a day, but their small enclosures prevent them from doing so, therefore they develop aggressive behaviour toward humans. In the wild, there has only ever been one account of an orca attacking a human, but they frequently, and purposely, harm their trainers. Animals in captivity develop behavioural problems due to being enclosed in small areas without the proper and natural stimulations that nature would otherwise provide. Some animals suffer depression due to their small enclosures, such as orcas and other large animals like lions, tigers, elephants, dolphins, and gorillas, which can be manifested through violence and aggression to humans and other animals. In a recent event at the Rotterdam zoo, an antelope was seen attacking a giraffe. The zoo keepers were surprised, as the two animals have been sharing the same enclosure for years prior to this attack. Another example of aggressive behaviour towards humans is Tilikum’s attempt to drown this trainer. After years of being forced to perform against his will, this orca tried to drown his trainer during a live show by dragging him to the bottom of the pool for several seconds, and then bringing him back up to breathe only to drag him down again.
Zoos are unethical and unnatural for animals because they are physically and mentally abused in these conditions. A better way to learn about animals would be to watch them in their natural habitats, to watch documentaries about them, or read literature about them and their environments. These practices are more ethical than forcing animals into small enclosures, feeding them unhealthy diets, making them perform for their meals, physically abusing them, and causing them mental and behavioural problems, all for us to profit and benefit from their suffering. We must learn to treat animals freely and with compassion, and zoos are one of the last places where animals experience compassion.