Why Zoos are Unethical

why zoos are unethical

Over the years I’ve become more active in protesting. At first, when I had only gone to climate marches I felt like it was really peaceful. People around me understand why I protest and support me. Until I went to a protest at a zoo. Then people become mad and hateful. In the picture of this post you can see me protesting at one with a sign that says ‘stop animal entertainment’. Zoos are horrible places, I personally know this. However, most people don’t see how seriously messed up these places are. And that’s why I want to share why zoos are unethical in this post.


For a small country like The Netherlands we have a huge amount of zoos. Small and big. If I may believe Wikipedia, we have over 70 zoos in The Netherlands. They’re not all zoos I think, some are sanctuaries. But still, 70 is a lot! It really shows how much Dutch people love zoos and don’t see how unethical they really are. And that image is reflected around me. I don’t know a single person around me who boycotts zoos like myself. It’s a lonely place, you know. Sometimes it can feel like you’re the only one who sees the horrible truth and no one else seems to give a damn. It’s time to explain.

Confined for Life

First things first. What we basically do when we support zoos is we say: it’s okay to lock up an animal for the sake of my personal pleasure. We don’t recognize them as living beings with actual feelings. They can feel pain, loneliness, anger, just like us. We lock them up in a cage for their entire life. No matter how big the cage is, it’s never enough.

What if we would lock up children in a house all their life? From their birth to their death, just that one house. It’s cruel. It might be a big house, but that doesn’t matter. We lock up animals just for our pleasure. Because we want to visit them sometimes (maybe once every 3 years or so?) and look at the animal for 10 minutes and then go on with our lives. We confine them for life for the pleasure of just 10 minutes. How is that logical? It’s selfish and cruel.

Mental Illness

It’s been proven that animals suffer in confinement. That is no shock at all. Any living being would become mentally ill when it’s locked up. And where some humans are locked up because they’ve done something wrong, these animals have done nothing to deserve such a life of mental pain. Look up the term ‘zoochosis’ and you can learn all about it. We already know a lot about this subject. In Dutch we have a term called ‘ice-bearing’, it means that you nervously walk up and down the room. We think this is something ice-bears do, but that is not true. They only do it in zoos, because they suffer.

Endlessly walking up and down the cage, being completely stressed and behaving abnormal. Ice-bears move hundreds of kilometers a day when they’re free. In captivity they can’t do this and so they develop mental illness. And it’s not just ice-bears. All animals suffer in captivity. Repetitive behavior is one of the few things they have to calm their self down, things like biting trails or walking circles. But that’s not the only thing. Self-harm (like birds plucking out their own feathers), aggressiveness (towards the other animals they’re locked up with) or total numbness (sitting in a corner all day) are not uncommon at all.

The Wrong Message

A well-known argument of having zoos is that it has an educational function. I would like to use the argument of education for my plead too, just in a different way. A big group of regular visitors of zoos are families. Parents rarely go alone to zoos, they go because they think it’s a great day out with their kids. We can never blame the kids, of course they think it’s cool to go to a zoo and see animals. Parents have the responsibility to see the absurdity of this.

We teach kids that humans are superior to all life on earth. We teach them that it’s okay to lock up animals for their entire life, just because we want to. And we teach them to not ever consider what it must be like for the animals. The argument of educations is totally wrong. If you want to teach kids something about nature, you start with respect. That’s the only way we’ll even be able to live in harmony on this planet. Zoos teach us nothing about respect for nature at all.

Breeding and Killing

Let me make this clear: we don’t save animals who would otherwise die and then put them in a zoo. There are some organizations who do that and I support those. But zoos do not rescue animals. They either breed animals (which is messed up in itself, we make certain animals have sex with each other just because we want them to) or buy animals from other zoos where they were bred. Let that sink in. We create baby animals so that we can lock them up their entire life. Zoos breed especially animals that attract the public so they can make more money. Baby elephants are very popular among the public and so zoos usually breed those animals most.

But that’s not even the whole story. The zoos breed so that they have young cute animals to show off with and make more money. However, they usually can’t provide space for so many animals. If you breed and breed and breed, there is no space left at one point. If they can’t transfer those animals to another zoo, they kill them. Perfectly fine, healthy animals, killed. If animals are not ‘purebred’ and so not perfect in the eyes of the humans, they kill the animals too.

Is This The Best We Have?

I hear a lot about conservation of animals species as well. ‘Well, we have to confine animals in zoos because otherwise their breed will die off’. First of all, this is not what we do. Less than 25% of animals inside of zoos are close to extinction. Less than 25%. That means that more than 75% of animals inside of zoos are purely there to attract visitors, not to ‘save’ the species. However, the number of endangered species inside of zoos are slowly increasing. That’s because the species are dying off in the wild, not because zoos are replacing the animals with endangered ones.

Second, conservation programs don’t work. Not in the way we want them to. Zoos spend a tiny part of their budget on breeding the endangered animals. However, this does not mean we ‘save’ the species. They are born in captivity and are never properly trained or conditioned so that they can ever be released. Zoos never release animals back into the wild. So we maintain the species, but in captivity. We can never restore the wild animal population.

And even if we want to do this, we should not do it in zoos. Animals should then be bred in special wildlife parks where they can at least have the closest experience to a life in nature. If we lock them up in a small cage and have people stare at them all day, they will never be able to adapt to a life in the wild. So no, zoos don’t contribute to ‘saving’ endangered species in the wild. They only contribute to confining endangered animals.

Is this what we want?

The second question is whether we should want this. We are destroying the world. Soon there will be no habitat left for most species. We humans dominate the world in so many ways, we have no respect for other life. We know this and then what do we do? Instead of changing our behavior and trying to save nature, we lock animals up in cages. We don’t want to lose the animals for our own sake, we want to be able to see them. It’s selfish.

If we destroy the natural world, the solution is not to lock all animals up so that we at least ‘save’ them for our own sake. The real solution is to save the natural world and stop the loss of habitat. We should stop deforestation, desertification and climate change. We can only do this by changing our own lifestyle and making sure that we live within the boundaries of the planet, living an eco-positive life. And at the same time we should support organizations who try to save the forests and savannes (I will make a list of such organizations soon). That’s what we should do. We should never visit zoos.


Inside of zoos you never hear the true history of zoos, because it is ugly. Zoos used to have another name, menageries. They were found by the elite to show off how rich these people were. It used to be a way for royals or aristocrats to show their wealth since it was really expensive to keep exotic animals and they were difficult to purchase. But they didn’t do this to animals alone. In the first menageries plants, animals and humans were showcased.

The Europeans took these living beings home with them when they came back from other sides of the world for ‘business’ (the period when The Netherlands robbed and colonized the world). Humans were kept in zoos for a long time, the last one in 1958 in Belgium. This history shows the true intention of zoos. The zoos just became cheaper over time so that all people in society go to them. And to cover the true purpose of zoos (pleasure and selfishness) zoos now brag of their contributions to education and species reservations (which is both bullsh*t as I’ve explained before).


I seriously can’t think of a reason to go to zoos after you know all this. If you visit zoos, it’s a selfish decision because it’s just for your own pleasure. We should know better. There are alternatives to this ‘day out’ most people call it. Amusement parks, musea or a road-trip. If you’re a lover of animals there are other options too. You can go on safari’s (on The Dutch islands you can go on a boat tour to see seals, to name one example), you can watch documentaries or use virtual reality.

Want the real-time experience? Then visit sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are places where animals which are rescued are given a good life. They don’t breed with the animals, they don’t make them perfect tricks for the audience, they don’t make a profit of the animals. It’s all just there to give the best life possible to the animals saved (usually from slaughter or because they have a disability). It’s all love there.

A good example is de Nobele Hoeve here in The Netherlands, but I am planning to make a list of sanctuaries around the globe. This way you’ll never have to visit a zoo again! And of course the idea of sanctuaries is the same, we go there for our own pleasure. And I’d say that in the end sanctuaries should die off too, because we shouldn’t have to save animals. But as long as they’re still here we might as well enjoy them :).

Please, don’t ever visit a zoo.

Yours sincerely,

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