I Hate Zoos

Anyone who has followed what I have written about animals over the years will probably guess that I am no fan of zoos. But its more than that: I detest zoos. (Not to confuse  animal sanctuaries like Animal Place or Farm Sanctuary, which are wonderful places, with zoos). I’ve heard all the pro-zoo arguments. They leave me completely cold. The Australian/Indian philanthropist Phil Wollen says the meanest four-letter word in the English language is “cage.” I agree. I don’t care what size they are. An enclosure is a cage is a prison.

Education? Come on: name one fact you learned from a zoo-board in front of a caged animal. If you really want to know something about elephants, there are more than a dozen good books. Should somebody object that it’s not the same as actually seeing a living elephant, I would ask what it is that one see when looking at an elephant in the zoo? What you see is an elephant removed from her country, from her family, from her friends, from her forest and rivers and valleys, only to be constantly reminded that she is in a prison at the mercy of her most loathed predator (basically the only other animal who hunts elephants for fun).

I overheard somebody in front of an elephant enclosure telling the dejected looking animal standing motionless “You are a sorry excuse for an elephant.” You mean, I wanted to tell him, that after she has been traumatized during captured, probably witnessed the murder of members of her family, she should put on an act for your benefit? Pretend she’s happy? Show herself to be adjusted? In a circus, she just might learn to fake it, out of fear. But in a “good” zoo where she is not physically abused, she can revert to her default position: depressed, lonely, miserable and in existential despair. How can anyone go to a zoo and not see that?

I am saddened every time I go to a zoo. I took my sons to the Berlin Zoo recently. We were all horrified and by the time we left we were in a state of depression, not entirely dissimilar to that of the animals. How could anyone find it entertaining or educational watching animals live out their lives in completely artificial surroundings bearing not the slightest resemblance to their true homes?

When we left we were walking down a large avenue with a grass island between the two streets. On the island we noticed dozens of rabbits racing from hole to hole. We watched them, enchanted. Nobody we asked knew how they got there, only that rabbits had lived there for years, completely undisturbed. They had innumerable warrens and were safe from predators (foxes, mainly), living a completely autonomous existence. We saw them lying about lazily relaxing in the sun, undisturbed by the unceasing traffic. I caught the eye of one and he gazed back at me confident in his wild state. He was free. What a contrast with the zoo we had just left behind. I would never visit another zoo in my life, unless I decide to write an entire book about why I dislike them so intently (I would probably call it Against Zoos, similar to my ). I am not sure what purpose it would serve, though. Those who feel the way I do already know why. Those who do not are not likely to be convinced of how wrong they are. Somehow, though, I feel I owe it to the caged animals. Who knows, one person might be moved to close down one zoo, if not now, perhaps some years in the future.

About jeffreymasson

My new book BEASTS is out this March from Bloomsbury http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608196159/ or the eBook http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608199914/
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10 Responses to I Hate Zoos

  1. Pippin says:

    An exemplary piece of writing. Thank you. It brought to mind “The Animals’ Savior” by Jim Willis 1999

    I looked at all the caged animals in the shelter…the cast-offs of human society.
    I saw in their eyes love and hope, fear and dread, sadness and betrayal.
    And I was angry.
    “God,” I said, “this is terrible! Why don’t you do something?”
    God was silent for a moment and then He spoke softly.
    “I have done something,” He replied.
    “I created You.”

  2. Philip says:

    Some theologians claim animals have no souls. To the tortured animal, the only evidence of the existence of God is the absence of the torturer. In a cage, I would believe that my torturer was living proof that God is deaf, blind, indifferent or dead. Standing in front of a torture chamber I realized the beast was outside the bars and I was two yards away from becoming an atheist.

    • I so agree with you! I am also amused by those anxious to find intelligent life on other planets. If there is they would do well never to communicate with us. We brutalize our fellow creatures here and foul our own planet.

    • Zack says:

      I’m already an atheist because of this and other millions cruelties that happen in this world. We just need to boycott zoos, spread the word, they will close the day they don’t receive the quantity of visitors they need to run one of the most cruel business.

  3. Andrew says:

    I wouldn’t be so sure about people not being convinced by what you write, Jeffrey. On my travels around Europe I met someone who turned vegan because of your books and many more who were hugely influenced by your stories

  4. very nice and most practical and extreme logic. the zoos are setup with selfish, short sighted , parasitical people in the name of providing education and awareness. the zoos nevery support to takein injured animals, rescue any animal in distress for fear of media and publicity if any death occurs in the zoos. wildlife rescues are left to people like us with huge constraints on space and looking after them as there is no support from the government. they are out there politically motivated and there is not an inch of space for animal welfare and animal rights . education should be out from all likeminded teams opposing the zoos and informing the public why zoos should not be setup, why should no one visit a zoo and why it should thus close down completely.

  5. I agree with Andrew, Jeffrey. The power of your writing can have a big influence.

    I was aghast that China has just shipped two pandas to Scotland for a zoo and they are to be kept separate for a number of weeks “to acclimatise”. I can’t bear any animal to be used for human profit – the dolphin shows, horse and camel racing, circuses…..here in Spain, the bullfighting, although there is a groundswell to get it banned.

    • “(I would probably call it Against Zoos, similar to my ).”

      Similar to your Against Therapy, I guess. This is a very good idea, and I think that the results would likely be happier than they were in the first book: whereas, after all the therapies have been torn down and trampled on, there would still be a need for some kind of therapy (at least most of us nuts think so), I agree with you that there is no excuse for any kind of zoo at all, and so, unlike in the case of Against Therapy, a total lack of interest in considering serious alternatives to the thing one has undertaken to condemn would be precisely what is needed.

  6. brian tencza says:

    Hate zoos also … check out this video on animal escape

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