Are Zoos Ethical? 9 People Give Their Viewpoints

Taken from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA):

  • Accredited zoos and aquariums contributed more than $22.5 billion to U.S. economy in 2018
  • Support 198,000 jobs in the U.S.
  • Serve more than 200 million annual visitors worldwide (183 million in the U.S.)

Whether zoos serve a net positive and should be allowed to continue to run, much like the debate over the meat industry and veganism, is therefore a discussion we should be having. That is why we’re publishing this piece, where we’re publishing comments people have submitted to us that are both for and against zoos, in order to try to give you both sides of the spectrum and give you as much information as possible to help you make up your own mind.

So far, we’ve got 9 comments, which are listed below (you can submit a comment here). Here’s how I’d summarize them: The majority of comments so far are, overall, against zoos, arguing that it is cruel to confine animals in small spaces, that there is an ethical issue with confining animals without any kind of consent, and that zoos rob animals of a rich life. Others argue that zoos are acceptable IF they are done responsibly (see this article and the section ‘Characteristics of Ethical Zoos’ for what may constitute an ethical zoo), with the advantages of zoos being their ability to conserve species, inspire interest and awareness in different animals, and provide enjoyment to people.

I find zoos to be depressing places. They profit off the capture and containment of exotic animals that should be left in the wild. While in captivity, those animals aren't afforded proper space to roam, and instead end up pacing back and forth in futility. While some zoos do offer conservation initiatives and breeding programs for endangered animals, it still doesn't mitigate the fact they are exploiting animals for our entertainment. We could fund conservation initiatives without having to keep animals in small cages while people bang on the glass to make them move; zoos being at the forefront of conservation is a fox in the hen house kind of situation. Animals are sentient beings that should be allowed to live natural lives free from exploitation. Zoos, circuses, and roadside attractions will hopefully become a thing of the past in favor of animal sanctuaries, true conservation efforts, and protected habitats.

--Konrad Juengling, Wikipedia profile


In a perfect world, zoos wouldn't exist. I think animals deserve to be free in nature and live their lives. But, that's just not reality. Humankind will always find a way to capitalize on animals because the population (aka. the masses) allows it by paying for zoo entry fees.

That said, I do think it's ethical as long as there are checks and balances on how zoos treat their animals.

--John Pinedo, Freedom Bound Business


I think zoos are horrible. What is good for the conservation of animals are protection areas and parks were animals have proper habitats and spaces to live in comfortably. It is not that I am against having them captive, it is all about the circumstances and the space in which they have to live. For animals that naturally should be living in large spaces, to be confined in cell blocks with asphalt floors and a little space to circle endlessly, it is beyond cruel. I am all about trying to keep alive species that are in danger of dying out due to loss of habitats but only if we do it humanely and providing the best conditions for the animals. They should be provided with things to play, have space to run and if possible the chance to have either a mate or a pack of some kind.

--Joe Flanagan, 90s Fashion World


After studying this issue for years, visiting zoos medical facilities, conferencing with zoo professionals, and studying in national parks and preserves around the world, I'm wholeheartedly against zoos. While the debate could be long and complex, for me it boils down to a consent issue. I can find no ethical argument that justifies our assumed entitlement over other beings lives. I can find no justifiable reason for the suffering that we induce isolating and enclosing animals. These animals have done nothing wrong - there was no trial that found then guilty and sentenced them to life in prison. It's for our entertainment. Our acceptance of this cruelty in the day and age is embarrassing. It is documented that zoos can't provide sufficient space. It's documented that zoos unethically acquire animals, separate animals from their homes and families, and cause suffering in animals. It's well documented that animals psychologically and emotionally suffer in zoos. It's documented that abuse occurs in zoos, because wild animals are difficult to manage. It's documented that living in zoos doesn't extend their lifespan, such as elephants which live three times LESS in zoos. It's documented that surplus animals are killed. It's documented that conservation programs are more successful in the wild than in captivity. But even if someone could debate me on any of the topics above, it is simply not our right to make these decisions for them. If we recognize that animals have consciousness and can feel pain, as all reputable scientists now do, we cannot possible ethically justify that it is okay to kidnap, rape, imprison, kill or isolate.

--Sarah Reidenbach,


After having been in the zoo field for over 12 years, it's important to make a distinction. Not all zoos are equal and there is no comparison between an AZA-accredited zoo (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) vs an unaccredited roadside zoo or wild animal park.

With the former, the facilities have to undergo rigorous accreditation and documentation for their high standards of care and policies. These include requirements for enrichment and mental stimulation that will encourage natural behaviors. There's no guarantee of the care the animals receive or breeding practices at unaccredited facilities so supporting those should be done with caution.

AZA-accredited zoos work towards the conservation efforts of their wild counterparts. The animals in captivity are seen as ambassadors to get the public to care about and work towards saving species in the wild rather than solely for entertainment. While ideally all animals would be in the wild, the truth is that there is currently little wild left. The remaining wild is quickly getting encroached upon by humans which creates human/wildlife conflict where the animals ultimately lose out.

The best thing a concerned person can do is to continue to support AZA-accredited zoos that are making actual positive changes for wild animals and stop going to roadside zoos or ones that offer baby animal photo experiences.

--Stephanie Mantilla, Curiosity Trained


When I was a kid I was always amazed at the animals in the zoo. I found it amazing seeing lions, giraffes, and zebras that you see on TV to be inches away from you. However, as I grew older and the more knowledgeable I became, I felt sad for these animals.

These animals are basically prisoners living in their small cages and being made as attractions for profit. It breaks my heart knowing that these animals will never be able to experience the vast open fields and experience the joys of life in their cages. I just don’t like it.

However, I do understand that by keeping the animals in zoos, they are being protected and it prevents them from going extinct. However, I would prefer if these animals were placed in a wildlife reserve or animal sanctuary since reserves usually have larger rooms and areas for animals to roam around in. They also won’t be subjected to psychological abuse from people especially from those jerks who love throwing things at animals.

--Nancy Baker, ChildMode


I don't consider zoos to be ethical as it is imprisonment to the animal that robs their freedom and confine them in a small area. In this pandemic, people were asked to stay at the comfort of their home for a few weeks and not many people could stay home for a couple of days as compared to many animals in the zoo who spend their whole life.

The confinement also affects the physical and mental health of animals. The complex breeding program causes new animals to be born with several health issues. The animals in zoos are always at the mercy of handlers and most often get abused. Animals born in zoos could not learn the essential wild survival skills from their parents and lose touch with nature. It's animal cruelty and as we humans have right to live so do other animals.

--Mark Kay, GearTrench


There are so many reasons why zoos are important, and it's true that for every excellent zoo, there are others that are not. But I am a firm advocate for zoos, and here's one of the reasons why:

There's an old saying: Out of sight, out of mind. It's easy not to care about something that isn't currently right in front of you, and it's especially easy not to care about something that you've never seen before. That's why we have museums, right? They put history in front of our faces and ignite our interest in a way that a classroom never can. Zoos, aquariums, and other similar institutions are like living museums. They put these rare and endangered animals right in front of our faces, teach us something about them, and bam, a connection is formed that wasn't there before. Conservation is dead if we can't get people to care, and among the many roles that zoos play in our society, they get people to care.

--Mariah Healey, ReptiFiles


I believe the stories we hear about zoos are most commonly the bad ones - where animals are abused and neglected. I also believe that zoos are ethical, if they are responsible zoos that exist to nurture and promote the conservation of animals. We are currently in the sixth great mass extinction, in which humans are the ones causing the extermination of animals, not nature. In today’s modern zoos and aquariums, their research is funded for the sole purpose of propagating a species, with an end goal of reintroducing a formerly endangered or critically endangered species back into the wild. Even when they are not reintroduced into the wild, by placing these animals under human care (in which all zoos have to be verified by the Humane Conservation program) researchers gain the ability to protect wild animals by creating vaccines against diseases, mating programs and the continual study of making the animal’s life/habitat more comfortable for them. There is vast empirical and academic research which demonstrates the fact that animals in responsible, verified zoos live healthier and longer lives. As conservation of animals becomes more of a goal for legislation, President Donald Trump has even made animal cruelty a level one federal felony. We are in an age in which protests and social media have a strong hand in deciding which zoos and aquariums stay in business, and for those that treat animals humanely - they have stayed around and are continuing to do work for the betterment of those lovable creatures.

--Eugene Romberg, We Buy Houses In Bay Area