Should Wild Animals Be Kept In Captivity?

This is something that I have mixed feelings about, and with all the recent animal attacks on trainers and the subsequent uproar, I decided to introduce the topic to this column.

I just watched a video clip on CNN Headline news about a recent lion attack on a trainer at the MGM Hotel and Casino that was caught on video. The story headline was ‘Are Humans to Blame for Lion Attack?’

Ryan Huling, Senior Campaign Coordinator for PETA, calls captive wild animals ‘ticking time bombs that are a danger to themselves and to humans.’ Caged animals sometimes exhibit frustration by self-mutilation, excessive pacing and lashing out at their trainers. Some other recent attacks on trainers were the white tiger attack on Roy Horn during the popular Siegfried & Roy Vegas show, and the attack on a popular trainer by the killer whale at Sea World. I think ‘killer whale’ might have been a clue as to the true nature of these whales and maybe they should be left in the wild.

Think about it. These wild animals like lions, bears, tigers, killer whales, chimpanzees and elephants are used to roaming the land free to hunt and mate. Then they are captured and kept in cages much smaller than the lands they are used to roaming. I’m sure humans that capture, raise and train these wild animals have good intentions, but that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Who is benefiting from this? I doubt the animals are. It’s humans that benefit from captive animals because they get to see them performing and/or in a setting they would not normally get to view wild animals. We humans support this by paying money to go see wild animals at zoos, theme parks, circuses and Las Vegas casinos.

I have been to the zoo and I will admit that I enjoyed getting to see exotic animals up close, but a part of me felt sorry for them. How would you feel about being imprisoned for others to enjoy? In fact, I think there was a Twilight Zone episode about this with humans caged in their environment for the enjoyment of others. A zoo is bad enough, but what if you were forced to perform as entertainment for others?

Any thoughts on this?

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9 thoughts on “Should Wild Animals Be Kept In Captivity?”

  1. This is one of those things that bothers me! I feel it is important to have these types of places: zoo, parks, etc., because it is one way EVERY person has a chance to see the beauty of the wild. Having zoos could be a benefit and honestly the only thing that might be left someday. However, as humans who are taking over their world, shouldn’t we leave as much wild as possible?

    I took my young son with autism down to Discovery Cove to swim with the dolphins, it was amazing and he will never forget that opportunity. However, I will never forget the intelligence with which the dolphin kept looking at me. it wasn’t mean or sorrowful, it was pretty much the same way a bored worker at Disneyland looks at or past all of those they shuffle through the rides.

    Personally, I want to experience everything! But not if it causes pain, harm or humiliation.

    Maybe we need more interest in the watching the wild be wild rather than watching the wild be turned into pets.


    1. I think zoos are important as an educational tool. People will fight to take care of the things they care about, and the only way they will learn to care about them, is to get to know them. Zoos help prevent apathy, by helping to prevent ignorance. Modern zoos are very educational (I’ve been to a 3rd world zoo though, and that’s another story…)

      Scientists also need a controlled environment in which to study these animals to better understand their needs, which will help if there is an issue with the wild habitat.

      Zoos also take in rescued and injured animals (that cannot be returned to the wild), and breed their own animals, and are not necessarily depleting the wilderness. The entry cost to some places (almost $30 each to get into the Monterrey Bay Aquarium!) goes to their research and conservation efforts. I don’t mind paying that.

      I do believe that zoos should try to house their animals in good habitats, and I do not believe in performing animals.. unless it is a more intelligent animal who would benefit from the stimulation of training and social interaction… which is what the ‘show’ should focus on, not the human entertainment, but the animal’s wants and needs. Acts, or toys, that can demonstrate some of the animals natural behavior is educational too. I’ve seen otters given those treat balls that they have to work at to get the goody out of… better than just throwing in food.

      Nor should people act all shocked and surprised if a predator animal acts like a predator… my reply is ‘duh!’. I own cats, little ones(!), and I also saw the lion attack the MGM trainer… it didn’t look like he wanted to eat the guy, it looked like he was either bored or annoyed and was going to treat the trainer just like another lion… whap him a little, play chase, hold him down and make him say ‘uncle’, whatever. My cats do it all the time. They look at us and treat us as if we were cats too. Big cats do the same. Only problem is, when big cats treat humans like big cats, humans get broken. Again… duh!… it’s just their nature, and it probably shows the lion may have actually ‘liked’ the guy as a fellow ‘cat’!

      Anyway, I do believe in zoos, but their focus should be on the animals’ needs, and the humans’ education. Many zoos are moving more and more in that direction.


    2. Connie,
      You make a great point that I agree with 100% and that is focusing on the animals’ needs.
      I don’t have a problem with zoos as much as I have a problem with animals being forced to entertain. Unless they enjoy it. Some animals probably love to entertain.
      Thanks for sharing that.


  2. “I’m sure humans that capture, raise and train these wild animals have good intentions, but that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Who is benefiting from this? I doubt the animals are.”

    Well, the animals didn’t choose to be captured, etc., so it’s not a situation of mutual consent, free will, and so on.

    On the other hand, they are very likely living longer than in the wild, protected from disease, poachers, other predators, and dangers of drought, flood, fire, famine,… — so in that sense, yes, they are benefiting.

    It’s not a neat, perfectly black-and-white moral choice, is it?


  3. I think they should have zoos etc, but animals should be rotated out–rehabilitated and released back into the wild at some point unless they were born in captivity, in which case, maybe…just maybe if its a good zoo and conditions are awesome–then they are better off?

    I don’t know. I think we should have these places so children and adults should learn and experience, but at the same time…it shouldn’t be forever or I am morally crossed.

    The most horrible sight I ever saw, though, was when my husband took me to a Gun Show at a Expo land. These people have this area set up so that people could take pictures with all sorts of wild animals.

    One of which was a wolf. Now, I have seen wolves in captivity before–in zoos, etc…but I have NEVER seen anything like this before.

    It was put in a case with other animals (two grizzly cubs) and it was backed into a corner, breathing heavy, just staring into nothing. It wasn’t even laying down. It’s eyes was what got me the most. They looked as though the spirit had died.

    I cant explain it. I can only say it didn’t look happy. In fact, I walked right out of the place in tears. I couldn’t hack it. The image will haunt me forever.


    1. That is terrible! I can’t imagine how keeping a wolf like that would be permitted!! And who would want to pay to be put near such a miserable predator(!) just for a photo?!?


    2. A wolf’s a social animal; it belongs with its pack, in a space large enough to give some range. Here was a single wolf in a tight space with two grizzly cubs, at an Expo filled with human beings — not an environment it could possibly have been accustomed to. One can only hope that when the Expo was over it was returned to better conditions. But this example doesn’t encourage optimism.


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