Should Animals Be Kept in Zoos: Pros and Cons

Zoos – Top 3 Pros and Cons

A leopard at the Tamil Nadu ZooSource: “Visit to Tamil Nadu Zoo,” (accessed Aug. 12, 2021)

Zoos have existed in some form since at least 2500 BCE in Egypt and Mesopotamia, where records indicate giraffes, bears, dolphins, and other animals were kept by aristocrats.

Largely modeled after the London Zoo in Regent’s Park, these zoos were intended for “genteel amusement and edification,” according to Emma Marris, environmental writer and Institute Fellow at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

As such, reptile houses, aviaries, and insectariums were added with animals grouped taxonomically, to move zoos beyond the spectacle of big, scary animals.

Carl Hegenbeck, a German exotic animal importer, introduced the modern model of more natural habitats for animals instead of obvious cages at his Animal Park in Hamburg in 1907.

That change prompted the shift in zoo narrative from entertainment to the protection of animals.

In the late 20th century, the narrative changed again to the conservation of animals to stave off extinction.

Controversy has historically surrounded zoos, from debates over displaying “exotic” humans in exhibits to zookeepers not knowing what to feed animals.

A gorilla named Madame Ningo, the first gorilla to arrive in the United States in 1911 who was to live at the Bronx Zoo, was fed hot dinners and cooked meat despite gorillas being herbivores, for example.

The contemporary debate about zoos tends to focus on animal welfare on both sides, whether zoos protect animals or imprison them.

Zoos educate the public about animals and conservation efforts.

As of Apr. 2021, there are 241 accredited zoos in the United States.

According to a study of 26 zoos worldwide published in Conservation Biology, visitors to zoos increased their knowledge of biodiversity and specific individual actions to protect biodiversity.

Robin Ganzert, PhD, President and CEO of American Humane, stated, “zoos provide people, especially impressionable children, with the opportunity to see these remarkable animals up close.

No matter how closely programs like Planet Earth depict animals, nothing will match the bond of seeing them in real life.

Just look at a child’s eyes at the zoo when he or she encounters a tiger or similarly majestic animal.” [12]

Zoos produce helpful scientific research.

228 accredited zoos published 5,175 peer-reviewed manuscripts between 1993 and 2013.

In 2017, 173 accredited US zoos spent $25 million on research, studied 485 species and subspecies of animals, worked on 1,280 research projects, and published 170 research manuscripts.

Because so many diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans, such as Ebola, Hantavirus, and the bird flu, zoos frequently conduct disease surveillance research in wildlife populations and their own captive populations that can lead to a direct impact on human health.

For example, the veterinary staff at the Bronx Zoo in New York alerted health officials of the presence of West Nile Virus.

Zoo research is used in other ways such as informing legislation like the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act, helping engineers build a robot to move like a sidewinder snake, and encouraging minority students to enter STEM careers.

Zoos save species from extinction and other dangers.

Corroboree frogs, eastern bongos, regent honeyeaters, Panamanian golden frogs, Bellinger River snapping turtles, golden lion tamarins, and Amur leopards, among others, have been saved from extinction by zoos.

Zoos are also working to save polar bears, tigers, and wild African elephants from habitat loss, apes and rhinos from poachers, dolphins and whales from hunters, and bees and butterflies from population declines, among many other efforts to help many other animals.

By keeping populations of animals and conducting wild repopulation, zoos can help preserve species in danger from climate change.

A joint conservation effort between the San Diego and Los Angeles Zoos with other organizations resulted in a population of 276 California condors in the wild and another 170 in captivity by 2016.

Przewalski’s horses, the last wild horses, were declared extinct in the wild in the 1960s when about 12 lived in zoos.

By 2018, breeding programs at zoos increased the number to 2,400 horses, and 800 were reintroduced to the wild.

Zoos don’t educate the public enough to justify keeping animals captive.

A review published in Animal Studies Repository concluded, “to date there is no compelling or even particularly suggestive evidence for the claim that zoos and aquariums promote attitude change, education, and interest in conservation in visitors.” Even a study widely cited to justify the argument that zoos educate the public stated, “there was no overall statistically significant change in understanding [of ecological concepts] seen” because visitors know a lot about ecology before going to the zoo.

TV shows such as Planet Earth bring wild animals into living rooms, allowing people to see the animals in their natural habitats without causing harm to animals such as the endangered snow leopard.

The animals always look miserable in captivity… [T]he idea that kids only get excited about things they can see in the flesh is ridiculous.

Zoos are detrimental to animals’ physical health.

A study of 35 species of carnivores, including brown bears, cheetahs, and lions, found that zoo enclosures were too small for the animals to carry out their normal routines, which led to problems such as pacing and more infant deaths.

About 70% of adult male gorillas in North America have heart disease, the leading cause of death among gorillas in captivity, although the condition is almost completely absent in the wild.

Other great apes have similar health problems in captivity.

Captive elephants live about half as long as wild elephants: 18.9 years v.

Of 77 elephants in 13 zoos, 71 were overweight and spent 83% of their time indoors, contributing to early death.

Zoo confinement is psychologically damaging to animals.

Animal behaviorists often see zoo animals suffering from problems not seen in the wild, such as clinical depression in clouded leopards and gibbons, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in brown bears, and anxiety in giraffes.

The animals experience these issues due to smaller enclosures, changes in diet and activities, and the introduction of things not seen in the wild, such as medical exams and people with cameras.

A study of captive chimpanzees found that “abnormal behaviour is endemic in the population,” and includes behaviors such as eating feces, twitching, rocking back and forth, plucking hair, pacing, vomiting, and self-mutilation, among others.

As a result of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which exposed the psychological damage done to orcas by SeaWorld, California outlawed captive orca breeding.

Click for an Encyclopaedia Britannica video about the importance of genetic diversity in captive breeding.

If you believe they should not, consider how else to accomplish zoo’s conservation efforts.

2. Extend the debate to other human-made animal habitats, such as safari parks and animal sanctuaries.

3. What other conservation efforts are important to saving wildlife?

1. Analyze “Eight Reasons Zoos Are Good for Conservation” from conservation scientist James Borrell.

After reading the pros and cons on this topic, has your thinking changed?

If your thoughts have not changed, list two to three ways your better understanding of the “other side of the issue” now helps you better argue your position.

1.National Geographic, “Zoo,” (accessed May 8, 2019)

2.Schönbrunn Palace, “Zoo,” (accessed Apr. 23, 2019)

3.CBC, “Trapped in a Human Zoo,”, (accessed Apr. 23, 2019)

4.Krista Langlois, “Something Mysterious Is Killing Captive Gorillas,”, Mar. 5, 2018

5.Association of Zoos & Aquariums, “Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums,”, Apr. 2019

6.Association of Zoos & Aquariums, “Visitor Demographics,” (accessed May 7, 2019)

7.Maury Brown, “Why MLB Attendance Dropped below 70 Million for the First Time in 15 Years,”, Oct. 3, 2018

8.NHL, “NHL Attendance (1975-76 through 2018-2019),” (accessed May. 7, 2019)

9.NBA, “NBA Breaks All-Time Attendance Record for Fourth Straight Year,”, Apr. 12, 2018

11.Andrew Moss, Eric Jensen, and Markus Gusset, “Evaluating the Contribution of Zoos and Aquariums to Aichi Biodiversity Target 1,” Conservation Biology, Aug. 22, 2014

12.Robin Ganzert, “Zoos Save Species — Visit One This World Wildlife Day,”, Mar. 3, 2018

13.Tse-Lynn Loh, et al., “Quantifying the Contribution of Zoos and Aquariums to Peer-Reviewed Scientific Research,”, Mar. 15, 2018

14.Association of Zoos & Aquariums, “Research and Science,” (accessed May 7, 2019)

16.Taronga Conservation Society Australia, “10 Endangered Species Saved from Extinction by Zoos,”, May 18, 2017

17.Association of Zoos & Aquariums, “AZA and Animal Program Conservation Initiatives,” (accessed Apr. 17, 2019)

18.Association of Zoos & Aquariums, “Pollinator Conservation,” (accessed Apr. 17, 2019)

19.Association of Zoos & Aquariums, “Climate Change and Wildlife,” (accessed Apr. 17, 2019)

20.Association of Zoos & Aquariums, “Marine Mammal Conservation,” (accessed Apr. 17, 2019)

21.Michela Pacifici, et al., “Species Traits Influenced Their Response to Recent Climate Change,”, 2017

22.Association of Zoos & Aquariums, “Conservation Success Stories in AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums,”, Apr. 20, 2017

24.Jan Flemr, “Long Way Home as Przewalski’s Horses Fly to Mongolia,”, July 19, 2018

25.Jane Palmer, “The World’s Last Truly Wild Horse,”, Nov. 11, 2015

26.Lori Marino, et al., “Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors?

A Critical Evaluation of the American Zoo and Aquarium Study,”, 2010

28.Romesh Ranganathan, “Zoos Are Prisons for Animals — No One Needs to See a Depressed Penguin in the Flesh,”, Mar. 13, 2017

29.Edna Francisco, “Zoo Carnivores Need More Space,”, Oct. 1, 2003

30.Ian Sample, “Stress and Lack of Exercise Are Killing Elephants Zoos Warned,”, Dec. 11, 2008

31.Alex Halberstadt, “Zoo Animals and Their Discontents,”, July 3, 2014

33.Jenni Laidman, “Zoos Using Drugs to Help Manage Anxious Animals,”, Sep. 12, 2005

Newton-Fisher, “How Abnormal Is the Behavior of Captive, Zoo-Living Chimpanzees?,”, June 16, 2011

35.John Jett, et al., “Tooth Damage in Captive Orcas,”, May 2018

37.Shelby Isaacson, “Mote Ranked No. 1 Nonprofit in Published Research by Top Zoos and Aquariums,”, Apr. 4, 2018

38.Zoo Atlanta, “Representative Research,” (accessed May 8, 2019)

39.Bronx Zoo, “Bridging the Gap,” (accessed May 8, 2019)

40.Emma Marris, “Modern Zoos Are Not Worth the Moral Cost,:, June 11, 2021

41.Association of Zoos and Aquariums, “Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums,”, Apr. 2021

Zoos are premises for the captivity of animals, often in urban areas where many of the animals would not otherwise be found, with the intention of studying the animals and displaying them to the public at large.

The predecessor of the zoo was the menagerie, which involved the captivity of birds typically for the entertainment of the aristocracy, and has a long history running back to ancient times.

The first modern zoo evolved out of an aristocratic menagerie in Vienna in 1765.

Many types of zoo now exist, from the petting zoos that encourage the public to get up and close with the animals to the large nature reserves that provide space for the animals to roam around within and most famously the large, urban zoos like the London Zoo which include elephants, lions and penguins and are usually notable tourist drawcards for the cities concerned.

Proponents argue that zoos are beneficial both to the animals themselves, protecting endangered species with specific breeding programs, and the public, as an educational tool to increase both awareness and understanding.

Opponents respond that the removal of wild animals from their habitat is wrong, that they should be left in their natural surroundings and not used as tools for public entertainment.

Entertainment and Health at its bestHuman understanding can help animalsBy observing animal behaviour we can help those in the wildKeeping animals in zoos can stop them becoming extinct in the wild.

Wild Animals Are Not DomesticatedThe means is not proportionate to what is achievedWhatever the good intentions of zoo-keepers, animals in zoos suffer.People visiting zoos will be given the subliminal message that it is OK to use animals for our own ends.Problems with the claim that zoos are beneficial because they help to conserve endangered speciesAnimal research may be valuable, but it does not need to happen in the context of confinement and human entertainment.Animals should be left in the wild

Zoo Keepers take good care of animals and people get to view animals at their own pleasure (Which funds the zoo keepers with the money to take care of the animals further).

No, not animals are endangered because we destroyed their habitat.

However, this is only true for wild Tasmanian Devils.

They may be in cages and not tied to what we’d think of as the “ideal” home for these animals, but lets face it, these animals are cleaned, fed nutritiously and even given a roof over their head, usually with a “piece of their own environment”.

Its like being taken off the street as a hobo and living in a luxurious suite, fed meals every day, bathed, regular doctor visits to make sure you’re in good shape.

Human understanding can help animals

Yes because…By taking our children to zoos, by educating them and showing them how beautiful animals are, we are entrusting the animal future to them.

If they have had a first hand experience of these animals then they will be more likely to take heed of animal needs in the long run.

They will be less likely to buy animal furs or elephant tusks.

We would not force a human to be subjected to inhumane treatment and captivity with the reasoning that they would be saving future humans.

Everyone has it and there is no reason why animals should not be given this grace as well.

We cannot subject an animal, against it wishes to captivity and rationed foods by citing the future good for all animals.

We should respect every animal, even those in zoos and not offer them up as sacrifice.

By observing animal behaviour we can help those in the wild

Yes because…Knowledge is our only aid in the fight against global warming and animal protection.

We need to know exactly what’s going to happen and how animals will respond in these situations.

By sending in specialist animal observers to zoos we can begin to unravel the mystery of how to save these animals for the future events to come.

We can discover ways to protect them, we can learn which habitats they can survive in, and we can learn which foods they would be willing to supplement their nutrition from.

By learning this, we can help wild animals of the future survive the changing environment.

Keeping animals in zoos can stop them becoming extinct in the wild.

Yes because…While ideally animals should be free to live in the wild, on occasion their survival as a species becomes threatened, either naturally or artificially.

Whatever the reason, zoos have been a major method of preventing animal species from becoming extinct.

While it may be the case that some species’ extinction has only been delayed by zoos, in others the zoos have been pivotal in breeding new generations and protecting a gene pool while the animal is re-introduced into a more natural environment.While protecting natural habitat should take precedent over zoos, many of these regions are politically unstable or financially destitute.

It is hard to blame someone who values his own families survival over that of an animal.

Because many zoos are in wealthy, stable nations, a secure and nurturing environment can be artificially created to help the most endangered animals survive and continue to breed.

A “Noahs Ark”, if you will.———-Rebuttal to “Yes” remark.Some animals can be successfully released into the wild.

See the efforts in New Zealand to have the national bird, the Kiwi, living wild in some protected areas and uninhabited islands, both of which have been largely successful.

No because…I fail to see how keeping animal in captivity is going to directly affect the population of the wild animals.

You qualify your own argument when you say these endangered animals are bred and then released into a ‘more’ natural environment.

But once bred in captivity, you can allow an animal back into the wild.

Either they will go searching for humans and kill in their dismay or they will simply die in the wild for not knowing what to do.

Once again, the only benefit in having endangered animals in captivity is that they will never become extinct because we will always have some in zoos, but this is not how endangered animals should be; they would behave differently in a zoo to such an extent that I would not even classify them as the same animal.

Wild Animals Are Not Domesticated

No because…Wild animals have not been domesticated by humans.

Simply possessing them for the sake of breeding in the case of an endangered specie really solves nothing.

Most of these animals are endangered because of severe devastation to their natural habitat.

Breeding them at this point is unfair, unless the intention is to increase zoo’s population.

Lastly, many of these exotic endangered species are from developing societies where the alternatives created by wealth simple don’t exist.

It’s easy to complain about the destruction of the environment, but most of these people are simply supporting themselves and their families with the only means available to them.

Yes because…Yes unfortunately as they are protected and saved from humans in zoos.Cant be hunted and cant be killed off with deforestation.I fear they will be in majority in zoos soon enough.As governments of world dont give a damn.But at least not extinct.

No because…It is cruel and inhumane to keep animals in cages purely for human entertainment.We visit the zoo maybe one day in a year for a few hours and we may gain some trivial sense of joy out of it.

However, the animals have to stay in that zoo all year round; against their natural instincts to roam free.They have no reprieve from their environment.

Why should humans think that they can keep animals out of their homes and in glass houses just for human entertainment?It is neither fair nor proportionate.Humans get food and medical treatment in jails; does that mean that prisoners are happy or that confinement is not punitive?

Yes because…This argument assumes that a) The harm suffered by these animals is tremendous and that b) the only value gained from zoos is human entertainment.a) Zoo keeping is a trained profession.

Animals in the zoo have the regular access to good food and they have vets on standby should they fall ill.

This is a far more luxurious lifestyle than they would have in the jungle.b) As stated above, zoos animals have many benefits that wild animals are deprived of.

From human understanding to biological study.

To see zoos as pure entertainment is myopic.

Whatever the good intentions of zoo-keepers, animals in zoos suffer.

No because…Whatever the good intentions of zoo-keepers, animals in zoos suffer.

Aquatic animals do not have enough water, birds are prevented from flying away by having their wings clipped and being kept in aviaries.

Yes because…There have in the past been many bad zoos and cruel zookeepers.

Good zoos in which animals are well fed and well looked after in spacious surroundings are becoming the norm and should be encouraged.

Zoos can exist without cruelty to animals, however, and so the fact that there are animal welfare problems with some zoos does not meant that all zoos should be shut down.

People visiting zoos will be given the subliminal message that it is OK to use animals for our own ends.

No because…Adults and children visiting zoos will be given the subliminal message that it is OK to use animals for our own ends, however it impinges on their freedom or quality of life; thus zoos will encourage poor treatment of animals more generally.

People do not go to zoos for educational reasons they simply go to be entertained and diverted by weird and wonderful creatures seen as objects of beauty or entertainment.

As a form of education the zoo is deficient: the only way to understand an animal properly is to see it in its natural environment – the zoo gives a totally artificial and misleading view of the animal by isolating it from its ecosystem.

Yes because…Zoos nowadays are not marketed as places of entertainment – they are places of education.

Most modern zoos have their main emphasis on conservation and education – the reason that so many schools take children to zoos is to teach them about nature, the environment, endangered species, and conservation.

Far from encouraging bad treatment of animals, zoos provide a direct experience of other species that will increase ecological awareness.

Problems with the claim that zoos are beneficial because they help to conserve endangered species

No because…There are two problems with the claim that zoos are beneficial because they help to conserve endangered species.

First, they do not have a very high success rate – many species are going extinct each week despite the good intentions of some zoos.

This is partly because a very small captive community of a species is more prone to inter-breeding and birth defects.

Secondly, captive breeding to try to stave off extinction need not take place in the context of a zoo, where the public come to look at captive animals and (often) see them perform tricks.

Captive breeding programmes should be undertaken in large nature reserves, not within the confines of a zoo.

Yes because…One of the main functions of zoos is to breed endangered animals in captivity.

If natural or human factors have made a species’ own habitat a threatening environment then human intervention can preserve that species where it would certainly go extinct if there were no intervention.

There are certainly problems with trying to conserve endangered species in this way but it is right that we should at least try to conserve them.

And as long as animals are treated well in zoos there is no reason why conservation, education, and cruelty-free entertainment should not all be combined in a zoo.

There is also, of course, a valid role for breeding in different environments such as large nature reserves.

Animal research may be valuable, but it does not need to happen in the context of confinement and human entertainment.

No because…As above, research into animals (when it respects their rights and is not cruel or harmful) may be valuable, but it does not need to happen in the context of confinement and human entertainment.

Also, the only way really to understand other species is to study them in their natural habitat and see how they interact socially and with other species of flora and fauna.

Animals can and should be studied in the wild but they can be studied more closely, more rigorously, and over a more sustained period of time in captivity.

Both sorts of study are valuable and, as in point 4, there is no reason why this should not be done in the context of a cruelty-free zoo as well as in other contexts.

Animals should be left in the wild

They long to roam in the long grass of Africa, they long to chase other animals, and they long to play in large groups.

No matter how we may try to replicate their surrounding in a zoo, we will never achieve the full result.

Therefore, these animals will never be as happy as they would be in the wild.We are fighting with animals natural desires to be wild, and this is a battle that humans cannot win without destroying animals at the core.Predators need to hunt and taking from them their ability to do so; by taming/caging/drugging them is beyond cruel.

Excessive human involvement(both hunters/poachers that sell animals to zoos/safaris and those who kill them for their skin/tusks/etc) in the food cycle; has disrupted it considerably(extinction and endangerment of species).

Yes because…How can we measure animal happiness?

Would humans be better off in the wild?

There are poachers/hunters/animal-predators/other-animals-fighting-for-limiting-resources in the wild at least with animal captivity comes animal security, food is always on the table and there’s free medical.Would ‘we’ prefer the wild?The truth is that these claims are based around the logically-skewed ideas of neo-classical animal rights groups.

We cannot measure animal happiness.

We cannot really say that they would be best left in the wild.All we can do is review at the information at hand.

Domesticated animals; treated well, would you say they were unhappy?

Well then how can we argue that taking animals out of the wild is wrong?

So rather than banning zoos, we should ensure that relevant safety measures are in place to ensure that these animals are as well looked after as possible.Species have come and gone from time immemorial( Dinosaurs are extinct without our interference); Human beings are part of the animal kingdom thus food cycle and our involvement is part of nature.