Many animals, most notably big mammals, often exhibit signs of duress as a result of being held in zoos or aquariums. These activities can include behaving in an abnormally aggressive manner, pacing, or even engaging in self-destructive behaviors.
One expert in this field is Shubhobroto Ghosh, the Wildlife Projects Manager for Animals in the Wild, with World Animal Protection out of India. Ghosh recently published a report for the charitable organization titled “Losing Their Mind In Captivity.“
In the report, Ghosh detailed meeting a lone white rhino named Mohan at the Guwahati Zoo in 1995. The rhino spent their entire existence in solitary confinement. Mohan exhibited multiple signs of psychological duress including battering his horns on the side of his enclosure until they were worn away to nothing. Ghosh noted this behavior during multiple trips to the zoo in the years that followed.
Ghosh was recently reminded of Mohan’s behavior when he came across research by Bob Jacobs from Colorado College. The neuroscience professor’s research has shown that large mammals suffer brain damage due to the impacts of being kept in captivity. Elephants and cetaceans are said to be the most affected.
“It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both elephants and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections,” stated Professor Jacobs.
Most of what we know in this field has been derived from watching animal behavior but Jacobs’ work digs deeper to find physical changes in the brain. His research shows that impoverished and stressful environments physically damage the brains of multiple species including humans, rodents, rabbits, and cats. Animals in captivity are particularly vulnerable.
In particular, Jacobs noted that living in confined and barren conditions that lack stimulation or social contact can cause a thinning of the cerebral cortex. Jacobs’ research has also shown that such conditions can cause a shrinking of capillaries which results in the brain being deprived of oxygen-rich blood.
Animals in captivity often suffer from “learned helplessness” or the realization that their actions cannot change their situation. This has been found to impact the hippocampus region of the brain that is most closely associated with memory. Furthermore, Jacobs’ work also shows that some of the self-destructing or stereotypic behaviors of animals in captivity can be attributed to an imbalance of two important neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin.
There is a growing body of knowledge about the impacts of keeping animals, in particular large mammals, in captivity. Jacobs’ research takes the field to a different place, however. By researching physical changes in the brain, animal welfare advocates have a better idea of the full scope of impacts facing animals forced to live in captivity. It gives them a greater body of evidence to show policy-makers and influencers just how damaging and cruel it is to treat animals in such a manner.
The more we learn about the impacts of life in captivity, the more evidence there is to show that these practices should be abolished globally.
Sign this petition to demand that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums change their accreditation standards so that no aquarium can hold standing with them unless they commit to phasing out marine mammal captivity and using robotic versions of these animals instead.
This article was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 28 November 2020. Lead Image Source : Roka/Shutterstock.
What you can do
Support ‘Fighting for Wildlife’ by donating as little as $1 – It only takes a minute. Thank you.