Zoos have become a relatively controversial issue in the conversation about the ethical treatment of animals. Many zoos have been found to be problematic, providing dismal and even negligent habitats for their animals.
Such zoos may have small habitats, lack opportunities for animals to participate in activities that they do in the wild (burrowing, running, etc.), not provide animals with the vegetation/habitat features they usually have in the wild, and more.
These unethical zoos are simply there to exploit the animals, not protect them. It’s important to boycott negligent zoos to show them that what they’re doing isn’t ok.
On the other hand, good zoos strive to protect their animals, often rehabilitating injured ones from the wild or working to conserve/repopulate endangered species. Before you support a zoo with your business, be conscious of what type it is. Below are some things to look for when deciding if a zoo is ethical or not.
What Were Their Past Projects?
Look at the projects they’ve worked on.
Is there an area they’ve helped repopulate with a native animal species? Have they made any progress in rehabilitating injured/sick animals? Do they have ongoing conservation projects?
Good zoos will often extend their interactions with animals past those in captivity. For example, The Point Defiance Zoo, my personal favorite, helped to repopulate Washington’s red wolf population. If they’ve been involved in these positively impactful projects, there’s a good chance they’re trustworthy.
What Does Their Social Media Look Like?
Typically, a good indication of what a zoo is like will be available on their social medias. Instagram is a great way to get a feel for a zoo without having to buy tickets and go.
Many zoos will also use social media as an opportunity to discuss conservation and activities they do with animals.
For example, The Point Defiance Zoo has in the past posted videos of zoo keepers providing meerkats with a small ball pit to practice burrowing in. From this video I can tell that they’re giving their animals opportunities to be physically active.
Lots of zoos are also willing to answer questions about their animals through socials media (in the comments for example).
What Do They Say About Sustainability?
Zoos that care about their animals will often want to advocate for the environments they’re naturally found in.
This might look like talking online about native plant planting programs, reducing and/or advocating against single use plastics, or helping to preserve specific ecosystems in the local area.
How Transparent is The Website?
What a zoo is telling you is just as important as what they aren’t. An ethical zoo shouldn’t have anything to hide.
Their website should discuss the ways they make a positive impact, and it should offer information on their animal’s habitats.