5 Things We Need to Stop Telling Ourselves About Animals in Zoos!


MYTH 4: ‘Animals in zoos are happy’

An orangutan at Melbourne Zoo. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/WeAnimals.

 Animals in captivity across the globe have been documented showing signs of anxiety and depression. In fact, mental distress in zoo animals is so common that it has its own name: Zoochosis.

Zoochosis can include rocking, swaying, extremely pacing back and forth, circling, twisting of the neck, self-mutilation, excessive grooming, biting, vomiting and copraphagia (consuming excrement).

A polar bear rocks back and forth at Pittsburgh Zoo


An elephant sways at Melaka Zoo, a sign of neurological distress
Tigers pace back and forth at Melbourne Zoo


A rhino sways at Frankfurt Zoo

These traits are mostly uncommon amongst healthy and happy animals in the wild. When kept in captivity, animals are deprived of the capability to express their natural desires and the result this can often have on their mental and emotive health is tragically clear in the form of zoochosis. Such behaviour, when shown by confined or disturbed animals in other situations, is often referred to as ‘stereotypic behaviour’ and is recognised by experts as a clear indicator of severe animal welfare issues.

Gus peers through the glass wall of his enclosure. In the wild, polar bears may travel thousands of kilometres per year, walking and swimming large distances in the hunt for food. Photo: Johnia/Flickr.

Gus was given thousands of dollars’ worth of behaviour therapy, the nickname “bipolar bear” and … a treatment of Prozac. His compulsive swimming eased off but never really went away. Gus died in captivity in 2013 at age 27.

Likewise, it has been revealed that SeaWorld (U.S.) trainers give psychoactive drugs and anti-depressants to some of its marine creatures. Since the ‘Blackfish’ documentary bare the truth about keeping highly vigorous and social animals like orcas in captivity, SeaWorld has seen a substantial decline in attendance. Society is recognising that there’s nothing fun about sad animals.

FACT: Living in captivity has been found to lead some animals to neurosis and depression.


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