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Zoos often claim they are modern day arks, saving species from the brink of extinction, educating the world about wildlife and providing vital research into the lives of animals. But are zoos really the champions of animals they purport to be?

Primate in ZooThe conservation claim

Of the 5,926 species classified as threatened or endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, only around 120 are involved in international zoo breeding programs.

Many species, including endangered species such as pandas and elephants are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. For example, to date no elephant has ever been bred successfully in an Australian zoo and even captive populations numbering in the hundreds in Europe and the United States are not self sustaining.

There is also the problem of genetic diversity. In small populations there can be problems associated with inbreeding, which can result in genetically weaker offspring. These offspring are more vulnerable and less likely to survive in the wild.

The concept of re-introduction is plagued with serious difficulties. Species threatened by poaching will never be safe in the wild until attitudes change and the culture of poaching is eradicated.

Species threatened by habitat destruction will have no home to be re-introduced to unless suitable areas for these species have been protected.

Bear in ZooEven if the above problems can be overcome, there are still difficulties with the process of re-introduction. Captive bred animals have often missed out on valuable lessons their wild parents would have taught them and therefore often do not have the instincts or knowledge to survive in the wild.


Zoos claim they provide the opportunity for people to see and learn about wild animals and that this will inspire people to contribute to their preservation. But what are they really showing us?

Keeping animals in zoos sends the message that animals are commodities and that humans are justified in locking them up.

The conditions under which animals are kept in zoos typically distort their behaviour significantly. Animals in zoos are merely shadows of their wild counterparts. Nature documentaries and books allow people to gain a true and complete knowledge of wild animals, by depicting them in their natural habitats.


Research conducted in the artificial environment of the zoo teaches us very little about the complex lives of wild, free-ranging animals

Most research done in zoos serves merely to teach us more about wild animals in zoos and if zoos did not exist then such research would not be necessary in the first place.

Lionness in ZooLife in a zoo

Zoo enclosures are typically inadequate for the animals needs. For example, the average enclosure size for mammals in UK zoos is one hundred times smaller than their minimum home range in the wild.

Confining animals in artificial and often small enclosures inside zoos is stressful and causes them harm. Animals in zoos are bored and lonely creatures who spend their days shuffling, swaying and pacing back and forth, their eyes sad and empty.

Other stereotypic behaviours displayed as a result of intense boredom and suffering include rocking, over-grooming, mutilation, neck twisting, chewing and bar biting, hyper-aggression, abnormal maternal behaviour and feeding disorders.

There is a better way!

Instead of funnelling money into zoos, money should be redirected to wild animal conservation. For example the money could be better spent:

-Establishing protected reserves

-Funding anti-poaching patrols

-Educating people about wildlife and the need for conservation

-Lobbying for legislation to protect wildlife (from poachers and habitat destruction)

If you visit zoos you are contributing to this suffering. Today's wildlife programmes can give viewers a much greater understanding and appreciation of these animals than zoos ever could. If you truly care about animals and conservation turn on the T.V and make a donation to one of the many wildlife charities working to save animals in the wild.

If the possibility of re-introduction of the species into the wild is a farce, then zoos only exist to preserve those species in captivity. Keeping animals in zoos harms them, by denying them freedom to carry out their lives naturally. While humans may feel that there is some justifying benefit to their captivity, there is no compensating benefit to the individual animals. Should a handful of individual animals be forced to live out life sentences just so humans can simply satisfy their curiosity?

Think about this...

The zoo is a prison for animals who have been sentenced without trial and I feel guilty because I do nothing about it. I wanted to see an oyster-catcher, so I was no better than the people who caged the oyster-catcher for me to see. - Russell Hoban (1925- )

An individual animal doesn't care if its species is facing extinction – it cares if it is feeling pain. - Ronnie Lee (1951- )

We cannot glimpse the essential life of a caged animal, only the shadow of its former beauty. - Julia Allen Field (1937- )

The saddest thing about zoos is the way they drive animals mad. Much of the behaviour we take for granted in zoo animals – repetitive padding up and down, head banging, obsessive paw swinging, or just plain moping – is actually psychotic, the sort of thing humans get driven to when they are kept in solitary confinement. - Bill Travers (Star of “Born Free” and co-founder of Zoo Check)


"The immorality of rodeos extends to the arrogance of the riders and their attitude to the animals, and to the way the audience is demeaned by watching such a tawdry spectacle." (Vet attending an Australian rodeo).

rodeo crueltyRodeo, promoted by one Australian organiser as “great family fun”, is in truth nothing more than a blatant exhibition of animal abuse which has no more place in a civilized society than cock-fighting or bear-baiting. It is impossible to have a “humane” rodeo, or one which does not pose serious risk of injury or death to animals. Far from being exercises of human skill and courage over wild beasts as their supporters would have us believe, they are manipulative displays of human domination over frightened and hurting animals.

Around 4000 horses and bulls are used in the over 600 rodeos held around Australia each year, in addition to an unknown number of calves and steers. Rodeos in most states are self regulated, meaning that only a small fraction of animal injuries and deaths ever become public knowledge.

“Bronco” and Bull Riding

rodeo crueltyWhile a horse may buck for fun, rodeo horses buck uncontrollably from torment. The secret is the flank strap, which is tightened painfully around the horse’s sensitive flank area as the chute gate is opened. The horse bucks in a futile attempt to escape the discomfort. Rodeo horses do not stop bucking when they have thrown their rider, but only once the irritating strap is loosened. Bucking events cannot be held without this strap. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banned the flank strap over a decade ago and has not held a rodeo since. The strap can cause bloody and painful open wounds which investigators have found at virtually every rodeo. In addition, bucking horses often suffer back and leg injuries from repeated pounding on hard ground.

Rodeo organisers like to play on the fallacy that bulls are tough skinned and impervious to pain. The absurdity of this is obvious when it is remembered that the skin of cattle is sensitive enough to detect a fly alighting. Bucking bulls not only suffer the same flank strap, spur, muscle and skeletal injuries as horses, but they also typically receive the worst abuse from electric shocking. Cattle are particularly sensitive to electricity, and abusers use this to their advantage to make normally docile animals appear wild and dangerous. A Chicago rodeo organiser is quoted as saying, “Bulls today have been bred to be docile. You can’t make an animal buck if you don’t do something to it”.

Calf Roping

rodeo crueltyMost people with an ounce of compassion can see that there’s something wrong with jerking a 3-4 month old baby animal to a halt with a rope around its neck, slamming it to the ground and tying its legs so that it can’t move. The frightened calves are usually travelling at high speed when lassoed and hit the end of rope with great force. They may become airborne before crashing to the ground, with a high probability of breaking their back, neck or legs in the process. Tearing of ligaments, disc rupture, damage to the thymus gland, trachea and subcutaneous tissue, and haemorrhaging is also common. If they can still breathe, calves will cry pitifully as would be expected of any terrified baby.

Steer Wrestling and Roping

Steer wrestling requires the rider to throw the steer by jumping onto him from a galloping horse and twisting his neck until he falls to the ground. Not unexpectedly, this can cause muscle, tendon and spinal injuries and well as considerable pain. In the related event of steer roping, the rider lassoes the horns of a galloping steer, then circles him on horseback to pull the rope tight around his legs until he crashes to the ground.

Rodeo promoters argue that they must treat their animals well to keep them healthy and usable. A statement from a former steer roper comes closer to the truth: “I keep 30 head of cattle for practice. You can cripple 3 or 4 in an afternoon”.

Dr C G Haber, a vet who also worked as a meat inspector, saw many discarded rodeo animals. He described them as so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the skin was attached to the flesh were the head, neck, legs and belly. He saw animals with 6-8 broken ribs, sometimes puncturing the lungs, and as much as 2-3 gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin.

What you can do

Don’t attend rodeos or any other events where animals are abused for human entertainment, and tell your family and friends why. You can also become an ALV supporter and help us in the fight against cruelty to animals.


"The idea that it is funny to see wild animals coerced into acting like clumsy humans, or thrilling to see powerful beasts reduced to cringing cowards by a whipcracking trainer is primitive and medieval. It stems from the old idea that we are superior to other species and have the right to hold dominion over them."
—Dr. Desmond Morris, anthropologist, animal behaviorist, author

Circus promoters tell us that that animals enjoy performing and are trained with love and positive reinforcement. They would like us to believe that circuses are harmless family fun, and that they perform a valuable education and conservation function. None of these things are true.

Wild animals do not naturally ride bicycles, stand on their heads, balance on balls or jump through rings of fire. To force them to perform such confusing and uncomfortable tricks, their spirits must be broken through physical and mental intimidation. Trainers use whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bullhooks and other painful tools of the trade, along with beatings, food deprivation, drugging, and surgical removal or impairment of claws and teeth. Adolescent elephants taken from the wild are broken by forcing them to their knees and chaining all four legs so they cannot move, then beating them on a daily basis. Violence and terrorisation are part of the everyday experience of animals held captive in the circus. They perform because they are afraid not to.

In the words of Pat Derby, former animal trainer, "After 25 years of observing and documenting circuses, I know there are no kind animal trainers."

Circuses get away with routine abuse because there is no way of monitoring training sessions. Undercover footage shows elephants being beaten with bullhooks and shocked with electric prods, big cats dragged by heavy chains around their neck and hit with sticks, bears whacked and prodded with long poles, and chimps kicked and hit with riding crops. In the ring, trainers commonly make use of painful ear twisting, and an artificial fingernail filed to a wicked point – techniques easily concealed from the audience but which can quickly persuade a “recalcitrant” animal to perform.

Elephant trainer Tim Frisco instructs would-be trainers how to dominate elephants and make them perform circus tricks. “Sink that hook into em. When you hear that screaming, then you know you’ve got their attention”.

When not performing there is no relief for the captives. In the wild, animals are free to raise their families, forage for food, socialise and exercise together. In the circus, big cats, bears and primates are confined to barren cages for more than 90% of the time, where they must eat, sleep and defecate in the same cramped space. Cages usually lack heat or air conditioning, forcing inmates to endure extremes of temperature. Elephants will spend most of their lives shackled. Wild elephants live in social groups and may travel 20-40km per day. Circus elephants may only be able to stand up, lie down, and shuffle a few paces backwards and forwards. When the circus is travelling, animals will be caged for days at a time, often without access to basic necessities such as adequate food, water and veterinary care.

Captive animals communicate their distress through abnormal or stereotyped behaviour which can include constant swaying, bobbing, weaving, pacing, bar-biting, aggression and self-mutilation. A UK study of circus animals found that all the species studied showed high levels of stereotypic activity, indicative of severe and prolonged stress. It concluded that this was caused by grossly inadequate accommodation and a highly impoverished environment which did not allow adequate expression of the animals’ behavioural repertoire. The major problems identified are equally applicable to Australian circuses.

Circuses claim that they “conserve” species which are fast disappearing in the wild. Yet in 2000, poachers killed 60 wild female elephants so their babies could be captured and sold to the entertainment industry. Similarly there is a thriving trade in young animals ranging from monkeys and apes through to bears, big cats, dolphins, seals and birds. Ripped from their homes, they frequently see their families slaughtered before being subjected to the horrors of transport, confinement and “training”. Most wild animals do not breed well in captivity, and despite protestations to the contrary, circuses rely on a supply of animals kidnapped from the wild.

Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland and Denmark have all banned or severely restricted the use of animals in entertainment. Over 35 local councils throughout Australia have led the way by denying public space to circuses featuring animal acts. Implicit in these bans is the recognition that animals have needs and interests of their own which are thwarted by life in the circus. A growing number of “animal-free” circuses such as Circus Oz, Cirque du Soleil, and the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, rely on human skill and artistry to thrill their audiences, just as the very first circuses did. The use of performing animals dates from the cruelty and bloodthirstiness of the Roman Coliseum – a spectacle none of us need in the 21st century.

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