Wildlife in captivity: zoos and safari parks

It is not possible for any captive facility to provide for all the physical, behavioural and psychological needs of the wild animals they house. The conditions are artificial and do not allow animals to behave in a manner that is natural to them. The level at which a captive wild animal facility can provide for an animal’s needs depends upon a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, the level of knowledge and expertise with regards to behaviour management and enclosure design; the veterinary skills and facilities available; the level of staff training; the complexities of the species exhibited; the resources available; and the willingness of the management team to prioritise the needs of the animals over income generation or demands from the public.

Sadly, all too often, wild animals suffer in zoos and other wildlife holding facilities throughout the region- and the world- living in the most appalling conditions, with no enrichment or stimulation, causing both physical and psychological suffering, often displayed as stereotypic behaviour such as repetitive pacing, bar-licking, rocking and head-bobbing.

The following conditions cause severe welfare problems for captive wild animals.

Animals in barren, cramped conditions in which they have neither the space nor the materials to carry out their natural behaviours; Enclosures where the animals have no opportunity to avoid the constant public gaze;Inadequate or unsuitable diets; Social animals, such as elephants, chimpanzees and macaques, are often housed in social isolation, in groups smaller than the average group size in the wild, or in unnatural groupings. Young animals removed from their mothers to be hand reared and displayed within animal nurseries. Animals trapped from the wild to live a life in captivity.

These conditions lead to many animals becoming stressed and this can have short-term as well as chronic long-term behavioural and physiological effects. Through time this can induce poor welfare by compromising health, altering brain function, and lowering life expectancy.[1]

Many zoos operate as commercial enterprises, buying, selling and breeding animals, often without consideration for the individuals. Whilst zoos continue to adopt this approach, the interests of individual animals are likely to be compromised and in some cases animals’ lives may be needlessly lost due to animals being deemed as surplus to the requirements of the institution and/or the breeding programme.

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