The Role of Zoos in Endangered Animal Awareness & Conservation

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In 2010, the animal pharmaceutical industry reached $6.8 billion in total animal health product sales in the United States. Most of these sales go to treating farm animals, domestic pets like dogs and cats, but some of these sales are going to zoos to treat animals kept in captivity. The unnatural habitats cause unusual behavior in various animals that have caused symptoms that resemble psychosis and depression. Zoos do raise awareness of endangered animals and are part of various conservation efforts, but zoos are ultimately just a form of entertainment for most visitors.

Zoochosis is a term that was coined by Bill Travers in 1992, who used it to describe the odd behavior exhibited by animals kept in zoos. At the Central Park Zoo in the 1990s, visitors began observing strange behavior by Gus the polar bear. Gus was seen swimming in a figure eight formation for up to 12 hours a day. This strange behavior resulted in Gus getting a prescription for Prozac and behavior therapy costing ,000.

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Polar bears are known to be able to swim for hundreds of miles to find food or a new habitat. The polar bear enclosures in your typical zoo is likely to be less than a million times the size of a polar bear’s natural habitat range. The range of lowland gorillas can be as large as 16 miles. Not many zoos have anywhere near the amount of acreage to give animals the appropriate amount of habitat space to mimic what their natural habitat in the wild would typically be.

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To the credit of modern zoos, efforts have been made to improve the lives of captive animals. Enrichment programs have increased the size of habitat space and removed fences to create a more natural habitat for zoo animals. One study showed that these enrichment programs has reduced captive behavior 53 percent of the time. Unfortunately, tight budgets often prevent these zoos from upgrading existing habitats. The next best solution is often drug therapy for the animals. Treating zoo animals with antidepressants and other drugs is far less expensive than investing millions of dollars in building or renovating a more expansive habitat space. This only increases the level of unnaturalness of zoos. Animals are not only kept in unnatural environments, but they are given drugs that they would never encounter in the wild.

Zoos are ultimately made for humans and not the animals that are kept there. While they can be used to provide an educational experience, it is mostly just a form of entertainment. I enjoyed going to zoos as a child and mostly only remember going there to see the animals. I can’t say I was overly concerned with the welfare of the animals themselves or their endangered status. Now that I’m older, going to the zoo is an entirely different experience. It is alarming to see some of these animals sitting in the corner of a tiny enclosure. I only get the sense that they aren’t very happy living in that type of environment with people just gawking at them all day. Many zoos do have reintroduction programs where they prepare captive animals to be able to live in the wild. That certainly is a positive, but in the mean time, there are large numbers of animals will remain under captivity in zoos. Many of which who will probably live in zoos for the rest of their lives.

Zoos can play an important role in advocating for the wellbeing of animals and promoting animal conservation, but to achieve those goals, many captive animals have to live in unnatural environments in zoos. It is difficult to see some of the animals in their enclosures and believe they are living happy lives. To their credit, zoos do make efforts to enlarge and enrich habitat space and partake in reintroduction programs. As valuable zoos are and the work they do to help animals, the main purpose of zoos is ultimately to be entertainment for humans.

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The Role of Zoos in Endangered Animal Awareness & Conservation. (2022, Oct 25). Retrieved from

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