POLL: Is it time to close our zoos?

  • 1.8K

In 2014, Marius, a perfectly healthy two-year-old , was killed and fed to the lions in Copenhagen .

It caused an outcry at the time but, as a new Horizon documentary explains, it made perfect sense – and lifted the lid on something happening in across the world, which they rarely admit to.

Every year, around 3,000 to 5,000 animals are culled in European zoos, and for logical reasons. If you encourage animals to breed in zoos, you can’t order a certain quantity and gender on demand. So you will inevitably end up with surpluses. If no other zoo wants them, it makes sense to feed them to their natural predators, however cute they look.

Sri Lankan Leopard 1.8a CAPS

In Horizon, Liz Bonnin, the presenter of ITV’s Countrywise, who’s studied and worked in zoos, watches a sable antelope being fed to the lions at Copenhagen Zoo. From here she lays out the arguments for and against culling, taking a calm and objective approach to the whole, vexed subject of zoos and .

Liz Bonnin

Culling made sense in that particular instance. But do zoos themselves make sense any more?

“Zoos have had an important role for many years, breeding animals,” Bonnin tells me, “but, actually, 90 per cent of the animals in zoos aren’t endangered.”

With mounting evidence about bad animal welfare, is it justified to keep them in zoos, if they’re not saving enough ? Recent research shows that elephants in zoos only live to around 19 years old, less than half the average 40-year lifespan of those in the wild. Elephants develop arthritis and chronic foot problems by not walking enough in zoos, and not walking on the right material. Throw in the drastically different weather conditions of a zoo to the elephants’ native climate, and you begin to appreciate what a rough deal they get.

“Wide-ranging, big animals – like elephants, polar bears, big cats and apes – don’t do well in zoos,” says Bonnin. “But these are the charismatic animals that people expect to see at the zoo. Still, people don’t want to see them unhappy, pacing up and down.

“Zoos can improve the situation, and educate the public at the same time, by concentrating on species that can thrive in a zoo. A responsible zoo can inspire the public with spiders.”

Bonnin with frozen Northern White sperm cells at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego

Bonnin with frozen Northern White Rhino sperm cells at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego

Zoos don’t necessarily work as the last-chance saloon for near-, either. In a moving moment, Bonnin visits one of the last five northern white rhinoceroses in the world, in a Czech zoo. The northern white rhino is extinct in the wild – so zoos were the only hope for their survival.

For 40 years, zoos have done their best to save them but, since 1975, only four northern white rhino calves have been born in captivity. The remaining females today are unable to breed – their only hope of survival lies with genetic breeding in a lab, from stem cells.

Despite immense efforts, zoos have failed with charismatic, popular animals, such as the northern white rhino. What chance do less charismatic, endangered species stand?

Liz Bonnin

Attempts to reintroduce zoo animals into the wild are just as fraught. Four hundred pandas have been bred in captivity; five have been released; and only three have survived.

Bonnin tracks the valiant efforts of Los Angeles Zoo to save the California Condor. After 30 years, and $40 m, they have raised numbers in the wild from 22 to 228.

“It’s successful, but it’s a big effort,” says Bonnin. “I watched one condor being treated for lead poisoning from bullets in the prey. This condor had been treated three times in 10 years. Fifty-nine condors have been killed by poisoning. It’s like a factory production line. How can you save reintroduced species if threats to their habitat are prevalent?”

Liz Bonnin

Bonnin is careful not to condemn zoos outright. Nor does she come up with one magic answer to the question of what you do with zoos in the future. But there is a silver lining.

“In 2004, Detroit Zoo sent its elephants away to a sanctuary, on animal welfare grounds,” says Bonnin. “People said visitor numbers would go down. They went up by half a million.”

Zoos can thrive – as long as visitors are happy seeing fewer, less cute species.

This article was first published by The Telegraph on 17 Apr 2016.

We invite you to share your opinion whether it is time to close our zoos? Please vote and leave your comments at the bottom of this page:

Is it time to close our zoos?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Thank you for voting.


Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter



Vanished - Megascops Choliba by Jose Garcia Allievi

Discover hidden wildlife with our FREE newsletters

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.


Founder and Executive Editor

Share this post with your friends

  • 1.8K

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment

Absolutely YES. CRUELTY to incarcerate any animal.



Robert Piller
Robert Piller

Zoos per sa ain’t often that great it has to be said. But we should never lose sight that responsible captive breeding programme offer some species their only glimmer of hope for their very survival.

Bad zoos yes but let’s not throw that baby out just to get rid that unpleasant looking bathwater.


And where would endangered and criticality endangered species live ?




I agree – the transition of zoos – as they exist today – to large sanctuaries where FOR THE ANIMALS WELFARE – there would be enough land and the necessary habitat for them to exist as they would naturally. Where is the sense in imprisoning wild animals – then “culling” them because there is successful breeding? But to be honest, the best outlook for any wild animal would be enough habitat and normal environment IN THE WILD. If we, as supposedly the dominant??? species on this planet, dont wake up & for instance, find a way to dispose of our… Read more »



Patricia Stillman
Patricia Stillman

Zoos need to transition to sites as large sanctuaries with the correct amount of land for the animals specific needs. Zoo that do research for animal welfare are important and compromised wildlife need safe havens. Humans must donate or provide large tracks of land as well as support wildlife migratory corridors for animals living in their natural environment. Funds must be made available for both.

gaynor gadd
gaynor gadd

It is sickening, animals are taken from their families to entertain and enrich the lives of the zoo owners. We don’t need zoos anymore, we don’t need to feed the cruelty and blood lust of zoo or circus owners. We all know now they are cruel, uncaring monsters and it is they who should be culled!

Crissy OD


Suzanne Lane

Bree Dalling and exactly what experience is that. Sea World propaganda?

Ritta Koleva

Help somebody to make money, and for sure not the animals

Ritta Koleva

It is time for the people who support zoos to replace the animals and get into the cages . Im surprised how many people voted No!??? They should take their children with them too, it will be fun .

Bree Dalling

Kathleen Haase yet you replied to me. How idiotic is that?

My credentials are much higher than yours. I have marine mammal experience. Do you?

Kathleen Haase

Suzanne Lane Bree Dalling hasn't addressed the actual topic once in her replies to other people. All she does is use ad hominem attacks to discredit people and establish herself as a higher, more intelligent, more educated authority which is completely invalid logic. Not worth replying to. 😉

Some people don't want to learn about the truth. They merely want their opinions to be shared and agreed to. Debate is not for everyone and Bree clearly has no capacities for rational debate. 🙂

Evelyn Hill

Let's be free the wild life, they are not belongs to any zoo jails

Rhonda Egizi Harris

Colder this death trap let these animals live and be FREE [email protected]

Brenda Robinson

No animal wants to be confined. Animals have rights too. They all want to live free, with freedom of choice.

Jacques Tremblay

I don't think zoos must be closed because they're places where people could see wildlife and be aware about the importance of its conservation. But what must be done is to give habitat to animals that are quite close of what they have in nature. No metal and concrete cages.

Kellie Mcleod

Swimming around in circles all day long eating drugged dead fish in awful water conditions and you think orcas and dolphins are happy seaworld is a hell hole for them

Suzanne Lane

Bree Dalling AND is that the most intelligent answer you can come up with. Your comment about punctuation was also scintillating.

Suzanne Lane

Bree Dalling the poll is still open. Some people don't have time to answer the very second it shows up and interesting enough YOUR reply did not show up until today either.

Bree Dalling

Nicki Stevens Ara you know you guys are responding like 5 days late, right? If your brain was moving any slower, you would be going backwards in time….

Nicki Stevens Ara

Bree Dalling you only hear what SeaWorld wants you to hear…enough said

Nicki Stevens Ara

James Ellis i think your Your ignorance is astounding!! WOW!

Nicki Stevens Ara

Totally YES!! these establishments are NOT educational! Animals kept behind bars or out of their natural habitat, just look at Artruro the polar bear!!

Kellie Mcleod

Zoo and marine parks are just greedy money making companies look at slave world how many orcas and dolphins have died in there care due to the conditions there kept in the water in there tiny bath tub tanks are nothing like the ocean the space there kept in is to small the ocean is alot bigger

Suzanne Lane

James Ellis did you miss the beginning of this article where the giraffes killed?

Paula Dyer

Animals are not here to entertain us or to give us a good day out. They at least deserve to be moved to sanctuaries where the environment is as close as possible to their natural habitat. How would any of us like to change places with any animal in a zoo? Give that some serious thought and imagine how it would be. It's not right to use the excuse of animals being 'endangered' and being protected and saved when really they're just being used to make a lot of money for the 'owners'.

Dania Sabljak

Absolutelly yes!!!!
Zoos and marine parks are not educational or welfare institutions, but making profit.

Daniela Thiel

Zoos should be banned because all animals should be left to live freely in their own environment. Many animals in the zoos die from sicknesses caused by the unsuitable climate, use of drugs and sedatives, unfamiliar parasites and also contact with humans.
Alot of people think that zoos are good because they help repopulate etc/. But did u ever think. That the only reason why we need to repopulate some species, was because of poaching
All animals should live freely in their own environment and not be restrained by human barriers.

Suzanne Lane

Bree Dalling and what are your credentials? How would role reversal suit you? Animals (or other humans) keeping you captive and breeding you? Boko Haram ring any bells? We have no right to put nature in prison. We had no right to destroy habitats and to continue doing so. There is more wrong than right about captivity. And James Ellis, Aquariums withhold food to train their CAPTIVES. Many animals especially elephants and whales show visible signs of psychological trauma….swaying, bobbing their heads…..and zoos have culled older animals for others food and one zoo actually killed and dissected a giraffe for… Read more »

Suzanne Lane


Suzanne Lane

Like saying trophy hunters are conservationists. Ridiculous.

Suzanne Lane

There are sanctuaries these animals can go to.

Cj Ellie

Dante Fenolio With all due respect the zoo industry glosses over how cruel and inhumane it is to keep elephants and other animals in captivity for profit and try and pass it off as conservation. Tell me again how much Lucky loves living in her small, barren, cramped space because the AZA says that is all the space she needs. SeaWorld makes the same claim that their Orca's thrive and love living in a bath tub size pool. I simply offer up these documentaries so that the public can learn the truth about how captivity harms these intelliegent mammals. An… Read more »

Dante Fenolio

Too many sell out to emotionally based arguments and dislike said institutions. For example, your response to severe wildlife decline with arguments that selectively focus on bits and pieces of a story (arguments that do not address the unrelenting loss of the very species you use as examples) drives home my points, thank you. Throwing sanctuaries out as an alternative to zoos and aquariums ignores the overwhelming loss of biodiversity unfolding right now, literally as our wildlife and wild places evaporate. It demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of what is happening in the wild and just how bad it is out… Read more »

Dante Fenolio

One key animal rights figure on TV is a lawyer without so much as a day in the field…anywhere (her own public admission). The few that do have the degree spend lots of time behind a desk and little out in the real world. I’ve met more than one of them. Number crunchers where the words behind the numbers are the part they ignore the real meaning of. I’ve sat through their monotone seminars and listened as they explain the numbers they have derived through complex equations. Disconnection from the filth, blood, and daily loss is a dangerous luxury in… Read more »

Dante Fenolio

Cj Ellie With all due respect, your argument glosses over just how bad things are in the wild. I'm not arguing that zoos are the silver bullet. There isn't one. But with a growing list if species, zoos and conservation breeding facilities provide real hope. More to consider but before I start – a full disclosure. I’ve been in wildlife conservation for an excess of 25 years, I have a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in the field, and I run the conservation and research department for the San Antonio Zoo….no hidden agendas, this is where I am coming from.… Read more »

Cj Ellie

Zoos’ conservation efforts leave something to be desired. Of 145 reintroduction programs carried out by zoos in the last century, only 16 truly succeeded in restoring populations to the wild [source: Fravel]. The condors mentioned on the previous page? About two-thirds of them were actually strong enough to survive in the wild [source: Encarta]. Many large, intelligent, social, far-ranging species (like elephants) simply do not thrive in captivity. Their requirements are too enormous. They do not belong in zoos. Period. Certified sanctuaries are an alternative offering large mammals that can’t be released to the wild, a semblance of a normal… Read more »

Heidi Hellstern

The world could learn from Costa Rica, honestly…

Tierra Chapman

We need more sanctuaries (as in proper, therapeutic environments) vs zoos,(which are mostly jails for the innocent) for the animals that truly require that level of care. Otherwise, set them free and get serious about poaching ALL poachers.

Eric Silberstein

I find it estounding that so many people would support the imprisonment of our fellow earthlings. They so easily buy into the notion that zoos and other animal-based prisons help animals. What they help is the corporate thugs fill their bank accounts.

The best way to help our fellow earthlings is leave them alone. Stop exploiting them, stop killing them, stop overpopulating the world and encroaching on their natural habits. Do we really want to wait for our species to become extinct for the world to heal itself so life can flourish again without us?

Maybe. smh

Robert W. Motz

In addition to the comments regarding the need for reproducing certain species in captivity ( i.e., pandas in zoos), the zoo creates interest that makes people more interested and involved in protecting animals in the wild. They are more likely to become involved in protecting the environment and the animals.

Nancy Pennington

It's way past time to close zoos! The suffering of incarcerated animals for humans' entertainment is unconscionable.

Kathleen Haase

Buck R. Hoove That is a minority of hardcore, fundamentalist, extremists (whatever word you want to use for them) such as PETA. What you have to remember about those people is that they are vegans – they want no animals used in any way. Most people on Earth aren't vegan. 😉 I'm an advocate for animal rights. I strongly believe in non-human personhood for example but I don't believe that using animals per se is wrong. If a species actually thrives in a captive environment, lives longer and has all their basic needs met, I don't see what's wrong with… Read more »

Mercedes De Windt

Captivity kills.

Leigh Reyes

Zoos are prisons, wild animals belong in the wild, and money and effort should go to protecting their native habitat not locking them in cages.

Kathleen Haase

Bree Dalling You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. You are simply wrong if you believe that PETA and HSUS run the show. Who did you get that nonsense from? SeaWorld, of course, because they used to claim that anyone against their business is an animal rights extremist from PETA. There are experts on both sides and zoos do have a vital role to play but, if you had listened at all to what the Horizon programme revealed, almost 80% of animals in zoos are not even endangered. Most animals stay in captivity all their lives. Where's… Read more »

Kathleen Haase

Bree Dalling If you can't read or understand normal English, please don't reply and make up things no one ever said.