Know before you go: Are zoos ethical?

Animals in zoos are constricted, unable to exhibit their natural behaviors. (Photo sourced from Pexels)
Animals in zoos are constricted, unable to exhibit their natural behaviors. (Photo sourced from Pexels)

Written by: R’Nae Ruddock

I’ll be honest: I enjoy visiting places where I can see animals of all kinds. Seeing the nature and creatures God created helps me appreciate and love Him more. I mean, who doesn’t love going to the zoo and feeding goats while watching kids (including you) laugh while a lion sits pretty looking up at you as if you were its midday snack?

The zoo can be chaotically fun, but there is a question that comes to mind whenever I visit one: Are they ethical? The simple answer is: No, they are not very ethical. Not only are animals in zoos caged and constricted, unable to behave naturally, but they are also being used for profit.

Zoos are not the only unethical place where people visit animals. Aquariums are rather unethical, too. These establishments can’t recreate the habitats these creatures naturally grow up in. 

“Without their natural habitat and the social structures of the wild, these animals can suffer from physical and psychological issues due to not being in their habitat,” said Frankie Osuch, a policy support officer for the United Kingdom, as quoted in an article on  

I may think that zoos are unethical, but I will admit that the issue enters a gray area when certain situations make zoos necessary. In 2022, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) rescued over 60 animals from Tri-State Zoological Park in Maryland, according to article. Tri-State Zoological Park was charged with various violations and forced to shut down, according to PETA. 

PETA needed a place for the animals to stay. So, do you know what they did? They called other zoos and sanctuaries, and they entrusted Oakland Zoo with taking care of the animals, as explained in the article.

Zoos need to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in order to operate. They also have a set of welfare standards that they must uphold concerning how they take care of their animals.

 However, accredited zoos like Oakland Zoo don’t always follow such high standards, according to the Ethos article. The article stated that Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, accredited by AZA, is named the “worst place for elephants.” 

The Cincinnati Zoo’s elephant enclosure is only an acre in size, which is not adequate for elephants, according to the report. The zoo plans to increase the space by five acres, four of which are for the animals, by 2024, states the Ethos article. However, considering how huge elephants are, that space is still too small for four of them to fit in comfortably. 

 Another issue with Cincinnati is the breeding situation. 

“The space provided is too small to breed more elephants, and other zoos tend to dismiss the fact that a lot of these animals are slowly going extinct,” Frankie Osuch said. 

Instead of spending their money to help vulnerable animals in the wild, zoos are splurging on bringing more animals into captivity for entertainment and profit, the Ethos article stated. 

I believe it is better to support animal sanctuaries,  establishments that do not buy animals from the wild, instead of zoos. 

Zoos are a complicated issue. While sometimes they uphold high standards to help and protect animals, other times they are nothing but places that want to exploit the animals and the people (yay capitalism). 

If you are able, support sanctuaries rather than zoos. Do as much research as you can on the zoo you want to visit (and this goes for sanctuaries as well). If it doesn’t feel right to you, then don’t go to that zoo. 

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