Should Animals Be Kept In Zoos?

posted in: Aegean Coast 27

I recently spent a lot of time thinking about the question of “should animals be kept in Zoos?” I was prompted to ponder this topical debate subject after discussing Izmir zoo with a few friends.  These friends stated strongly that they would not accompany me on the two hour journey to Izmir, because they viewed zoos as cruel establishments that had no place on the face of the earth.

However the truth is there are many zoos around the world that are both a touristic and local attraction. Marketed as a family day out, it is a chance for people to see animals that they  will never ever see again in their life time. Naming a few animals, it is safe to say that ferocious lions, cute cuddly bears, a lazy hippopotamus and a cheeky monkey all combine to form one of the most controversial subjects that exist today.

Should Animals Be Kept in Zoos? :  Case Study

Should animals be kept in zoos

Previously, I could never answer this question fully as I have never walked the path that led me to enter a zoo. However, despite a lack of enthusiasm from my friends, I decided to visit Izmir Zoo on my own and therefore gain a true understanding of what my stance on the subject would be.

The first aspect to note about Izmir Zoo is that it goes to great lengths to be known as a wildlife park. This stance blends in with the revamp that the zoo had in 2008 following severe criticism of the conditions that animals had been kept in since the zoo opened in 1936. Previous reports stated that animals were kept in cramped conditions, were dirty and their health was not considered a priority.  The new wildlife park focuses on large amounts of space for the animals as well as top quality care and attention to their needs.

The animals at the zoo

Well, there is no better proof than living proof and while at Izmir zoo, I spent a lot of time trying to analyze each animal that I came across. You might be laughing now wondering how a small town girl can call herself an expert on animal behavior however I just went with my gut feeling, watching their behavior, trying to make eye contact and analyzing any reactions to human contact.

Izmir zoo

The smaller animals seemed to fare quite well. Swans, chipmunks, ducks, tortoises  and goats were happily going about their business ignoring the traffic passing by.

animals in the zoo

The larger animals seemed to go quietly about their business but the animal that caught my attention was the adult elephant that seemed to be pacing up and down out of boredom. This is understandable because even though the park has given the elephants massive amounts of green space to themselves, in the wild they are used to hundreds and hundreds of miles that become their domain.  The equivalent would be like placing a human under house arrest.

Animals zoo

The more dangerous animals like lions and tigers are also given their own large enclosures and people can view them from behind a glass screen. Their focus on that day was on keeping out of the sun by lying under shady trees and Izmir zoo is very much backing the stance that if you do not get to see an animal then you should return at a different time. They are not forcing the animals into any ridiculous side shows involving party tricks and silly costumes.

animals at Izmir zoo

Animals aside, the park does give a lot of information to visitors about the animal that they are seeing and two days within a week are dedicated to educational tours for children. This is to describe the traits, natural habitat and eating routines of an animal.  It is quite plain to see that the park aims to keep its animals in the best conditions possible however this does not distract from the moral and ethically question of “Should animals should be kept in Zoos?”

The Benefits of Keeping Animals in Zoos

  • There are more chances of endangered species surviving due to no natural threat
  • Scientists can study diseases that kill species and invent cures
  • In a world, where nature and lands are being destroyed it gives the animals a safe haven
  • People can see animals that they will probably never see again in their life time
  • It is a great way to educate children that we are not the only inhabitants of the planet

izmir zoo animals

Should Animals be Kept in Zoos? – The Cons

  • Larger species can feel confined about the lack of space
  • It enforces the belief that animals do not have rights
  • There is the chance that some Zoos will not place the animal’s well-being before profit.
  • Some species do not adapt as well to captivity as other species.
  • Studying an animal in captivity is not the same as studying them in their natural environment.


My Conclusion about Zoo Animals

I really do believe that this question cannot be answered with YES or NO. For every positive reason to keep animals in zoos there is a negative reason and vice versa.

In the case of Izmir zoo, there is also the question of the baby elephant called Izmir. She was born into captivity and any suggestion to release her into the wild would probably result in her death due to a lack of life skills.

There will always be two camps when it comes to zoos. The people that believe Zoos are good for science, nature and to gain an understanding of the creatures that we share our planet with. Then there are those who believe zoos should be banned and animals should be released.

In my experience, Izmir zoo is caring for the wild life in the best way possible and I saw no signs of cruelty. For the sake of science, education and a better understanding of the creatures that stand on this planet with me, I have to place myself in the camp that says “Yes, animals should be kept in zoos”

What do you think?

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Hi. I'm Natalie, a freelance travel blogger and writer specializing in the country of Turkey. I love hot summer days, historical sites and coffee.

27 Responses

  1. Hi Natlie,

    It’s a very interesting piece and very well presented. As Adeline said, not all Zoos are the same and each should be assessed on their own merits.

  2. That is a very big factor Adeline – Zoos are fine if run properly however if the animals are not treated well, it defeats the object.

  3. For me, it all depends on how well the facilities are maintained and the way the animals are treated. Zoos are a safe place for kids to learn and appreciate the wildlife. But I have also been to some zoos where the animals look distraught and some are even sick that makes me wish they were living in their natural habitats instead.

  4. Hi Justin,

    Yes re animals as a spectator sport, that would include the safaris in Africa as well.Not sure that will ever happen in my opinion.

  5. Hi Natalie,
    In the big picture of things I would say “No” animals should not be kept in Zoo’s.

    But for the time being, Zoo’s play a part in educating humans about different types of animals and yes it is a nice place to spend the day.

    Eventually, I would like to see the idea of using animals as a spectator sport to be vanished, but the day will not come in my lifetime.

  6. Unfortunately Beckie I still come across quite a few places that assume animals have no feelings. I got an outside view on Izmir zoo but gut feeling was that they do have the animals interests at heart.

  7. I’m definitely against zoos, to me they seem like a hangover from the days when people thought that animals had no feelings. Animal sanctuaries all the way! At least they’re are genuinely trying to help animals, not make a profit from them.

  8. I like zoos, going to look at all the different animals that you would probably never get to see

  9. Hi Dave and Debs, I can see your point there however the main thing that springs to mind is that most species are going to be extinct through the fault of humans. To balance the equation, should we not be doing something that make up for our wrongs?

  10. I am going to whole heartedly disagree that animals should be kept in zoos. Let’s turn the tables.. say humans are going extinct and somebody decides that we should be kept in confinement for our own good, will all of you other commenters that believe in zoos volunteer to be the captive people? I doubt it. I think that you would rather live out your lives they way that it was meant to be lived. And so would the animals.

  11. I think, all zoos are not like same. but they take care for all the animal in their own style. I am never in favor of keeping animals in the cage. they also want freedom like us. this is another thing that they get care in the zoos. but we should not keep them in zoo, just for our fun.

  12. Andrea

    Some zoos are better than others but in general, no,
    I don’t think that animals should be caged. From what I understand, however, some animals are either born in captivity or are rescued and are no longer able to be in the wild, so I don’t see why they cannot live in zoos so people can learn IF they are treated humanely. I don’t have all the facts on this issue though…

  13. It looks like overall, people are in favor of zoos as long as they are done in the right way. I think you make a good point tom when you say that the concept of zoos has massively changed over the years.

    Nomad- I have noticed that about pets in Turkey as well. When I first came, you would never see a dog owner. Now they are regularly out and about walking their dogs.

  14. Its tough to be either in favor or be completely against zoos, though personally I avoid visiting them. Its a jail for most animals and they are usually there for no fault of theirs…only to let us see them and enjoy our time. Its a good place for kids to learn, but then they remain like specimens in labs to see and study…

    But I guess there are zoos where animals are kept as nicely as they can be in confined spaces. And sometimes they are the only places where these animals can survive…

  15. Nomad

    Before this nature park was built I would have said that zoos in Turkey (and many other places) should be managed by an independent international body looking out of the general welfare of the animals. The standard for zoo management was (at that time) pretty low. Back then, the zoo was located in the fuar area in the city center and it was dismal. The elephant was kept in a very small area, barely enough room to exercise its legs. The choice of zoo animals was peculiar, like rabbits, chickens and even cats. It was funny but also kind of sad. Obviously back then, the philosophy about zoo animals was quite different.
    So, while I may have mixed feelings about zoos perse, I do think city of Izmir’s efforts are certainly a step in the right direction. (Now if we can encourage more people to plant and protect trees in the city!)

    I also think that as a country develops, its care for animals also improves. For example, when I first arrived in Turkey oh so many years ago, it was very uncommon to see pets in homes. Later you saw only rich people with showy pets and later it filtered down to the middle class. Now it is very normal. I suppose the way we treat animals is a reflection of how we treat each other in society.

  16. Tom

    Interesting. Some zoos are obviously fantastic, and do a lot in terms of wildlife conservation & encouraging endangered species to breed – ones that spring to mind are Taronga Zoo in Sydney, San Diego Zoo, and Paignton & Chester Zoos (in the UK).

    I think a lot of people still think of zoos as barbaric places where animals are kept in cages and forced to perform. Obviously some of those zoos still exist in the world, but it’s by no means every zoo.

    As for space…I doubt there are too many zoos in the world that have enough space available to accommodate animals like elephants or giraffes as per their natural habitat. However, the larger endangered animals – elephants, rhinos etc – do benefit from the conservation & breeding programs run by some zoos.

    Great post by the way – lots of discussion going on!

  17. Sherry

    I’m a fan of zoos as well. Sometimes I think animals have a better chance of surviving in zoos than in the wild, especially those that are close to extinction. I suppose that every place is different as some zoos are better than others. But I like the idea that there is a place where people can learn about animals and where animals can learn to thrive once again.

  18. Ashley

    I’m a fan of zoos – I think the educational and conservation benefits outway the nedatives…though they do have to be run and managed properly. If not, they should be closed. The San Francisco Zoo has been making a lot of improvements lately, but still think there is much more for them to do. I hate to see animals that are bored or in barren environments.

  19. I firmly believe that well run zoos will play an increasingly important part in the conservation of endangered species in future as well as providing educational resources for future generations.

    We just need to move away from the ‘old fashioned’ concept at entertainment and poorly run zoos.

  20. @Jack – Yes, supervision of a zoo by an independent party is key.

    @Millie – I have had a look and can not find anything. Will carry on though and if I do, will publish a post as that is a great topic. Will be in touch if I find the story.

    @Phil and Di – That is the big question isn’t it? Who is policing the zoos in Turkey to make sure they do it right?

  21. phil + Di marina gateway

    im on the fence with this one yes i think a zoo has a part to play in todays world but NOT the circus

    and the zoo is ok if its well run but then who police’s the zoo

    so like i said im on the fence good report again Natalie

  22. Millie

    Yes/no I think animals should live in the wild where they belong, but when you see people ( as I’ve seen in India on tv) hacking at animals to get them to do what THEY want them to do, then they should be taken of them placed in zoos and looked after as if they were in their natural surroundings.
    Nataile.. Have you ever heard about the bear a man in turkey raised from a cub for 14 yrs after it’s mother abandoned it, the athourities took the bear away and the guy was so upset, the bear didn’t know anyone bar this man, I thought it was so cruel to take the bear away after all this time, the bear was very distraught,
    Can you find out anything about it ,,,,,thanks Millie

  23. Personally, I think there Zoos have a part to play in conservation and do have a place in the modern world. However, they must be tightly supervised and larger animals should be given proper space or not kept at all. Safari parks are a much better option than, say, London Zoo, where space is limited.

  24. @Yvette – Yes, it would be important to base each zoo on their own merits, rather than lumping them all into the category that does not care

    @Some reading material for me there Alan – I have never heard of John Aspinall. Will look him up as it sounds like he had quite an impact.

    @Nomad Joe – I investigated the background of the elephants a little bit however it was hard to tell which elephant was which. I think the one that I took the picture of came from Israel at the age of six, however I am not 100% certain of this.

  25. Nomad

    I wonder what the history of that particular elephant is. A lot of the animals are more like refuges from a traumatized background. So that pacing back an forth could be a result of years of tight cages.

  26. Alan

    as long as everything is commodified and profit rules the balance is always going to be weighted against what is best practice. For me the best solution is to study and enjoy in the wild; that means huge areas set aside from human exploitation which will not happen under this corrupt system.
    In the present and foreseeable dire situation for the environment I believe that the example of zoos like Port Lymne and Howletts, both in Kent, that were set up by the late John Aspinall are as near to the short term answer as one could get. They are there to to save and propagate endangered species; building genetically diverse herds that are large enough to release back into the wild when circumstances allow.
    Unless we set about changing the system we are, as Mr Fraser of Dad’s Army used to say, ‘Doooomed, Mainwaring, Dooomed!’

  27. Yvette

    Interesting post.

    My sister worked here in the US for several years for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, basically the people who accredit zoos on this continent at least. (Tho their accreditation is not the universal one but rather one good zoos strive to get- to operate you just need a FDA permit which is nowhere near as hard to get.) It’s from her I learned that what most of these arguments don’t keep in mind is not all zoos are created equal AT ALL. For example to be an AZA accredited zoo you need “enrichment” plans for the animals to make sure they don’t get bored- giving a big cat a “Popsicle” of ice with meat in the center is a common one on a hot day- so even big guys like elephants don’t have to be bored if you do it right. (You’re right in that pacing is a classic sign of animal boredom, unfortunately.)

    All in all I personally have long ago concluded that while zoos are not ideal when done properly they’re really a net gain. I can’t imagine people would be so vocal about stopping the trade of elephant ivory from Africa if we hadn’t seen them in real life when growing up for example!