8 Ways How You Can Stop Animal Cruelty in Zoos

8 Ways How You Can Stop Animal Cruelty in Zoos

Dennis Kamprad

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While roadside zoos recently have been in a negative light for their animal rights violations, raising awareness of this global issue, animal cruelty is happening even in some of the most-loved, respected, accredited zoos all over the world. While many more laws now exist that regulate wild animals’ possession and exhibition, the situation appears to have remained unaddressed for captive animals. So we had to ask: How can we stop animal cruelty in zoos?

You can help stop animal cruelty in zoos by petitioning your local government to make animal protection laws and donate to animal rights organizations. There are also numerous campaigns against animal cruelty in zoos that you can support or start your own campaign. 

If you want to help save animals that are captive in zoos from mistreatment and abuse, this article has several ways for you to take action. No matter who you are or where you live, there is something you can do to help put an end to animal cruelty in zoos all over the world.


Investigate Your Local Zoos

If you have zoos near where you live, do your own personal investigation into their standards. You can contact them by email or phone to inquire about enrichment standards and whether the animals are given time and space to socialize. And you can ask them about what kind of conservation projects they are participating in or what kind of research they may be looking into.

Further your investigation and visit the zoo to see for yourself if what they say is true. Take note of animal demeanors and take pictures of animals, exhibits, or anything that shows potential signs of mistreatment.

It’s important to hold zoos accountable for their responsibility to the welfare of their animals. You can reach out to your local zoo and request that they address any issues or shortcomings and better its practices. And encourage others to do the same.


Report Problems or Concerns

If you have a roadside zoo in your neighborhood or a local zoo that appears to be abusing, mistreating, or poorly caring for its animals, report these issues to local and federal authorities. You can call your local police department to make a report. Also, communicate this to the USDA (in the United States), as they are the federal institution responsible for zoo inspections. 

You can also inform your county animal protection organization and local city or district politicians working for the zoo’s region to express your concern. If they have the resources available, they may also take a look into the problem. 

It doesn’t hurt to report the zoo to various animal rights groups and nonprofit organizations, as they may help address the issue, too. For example, Born Free USA, a nonprofit fighting to help captive animals, has a form you can fill out online to report problematic zoos in your area. You could also try contacting ASPCA and the ALDF and request their help to spread the word or investigate the issue. 


Educate Others and Get Them Involved

There has been a growing concern for the welfare of animals used for entertainment. More recently, many were exposed to some of the critical conservation and welfare issues occurring in roadside zoos by watching Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, which documented problems with public encounters and captive breeding with exotic and wild animals. 

However, many are still clueless and don’t even know anything bad is happening

Be a vocal advocate for zoo animals and help educate others about the various issues animals in captivity are still facing today.

And while animal welfare concerns exist with all systems of captivity, when it comes to zoos, there are significant differences respecting animal welfare between smaller private zoos that are unaccredited and larger zoos and sanctuaries that have accreditation. It’s important to make this distinction and ensure others understand it as well when you discuss this detail.

The small, unaccredited zoos, commonly called roadside zoos, generally operate as a business for profit, often with a focus on entertainment instead of education and conservation. Plus, animals are often made to live in small enclosures or cages and provided limited enrichment or socializing opportunities. 

By contrast, larger zoos attempt to mimic animals’ natural habitats and environments and only keep animals in enclosures for limited times in the day, and many receive accreditation. However, these zoos are not devoid of their own issues, as many still mistreat animals by abusing or ignoring exhibit standards and laws. 

Taking the time to inform others can help grow the movement to end animal cruelty in zoos by raising awareness and getting others active in the cause. 


Donate to Organizations Fighting for Animal Rights

There are many organizations out there that are fighting for animal rights. Some groups are dedicated to the problem at large, though you can find some that are focused more pointedly on combating animal cruelty in zoos. Depending on where you live, there may be a local group to support that is actively fighting against problematic zoos in your area.

Larger organizations often are all-encompassing of animal rights and do various charitable acts on a global scale. Some animal rights groups may get some government funding or occasionally receive some financial assistance. But for the most part, these associations are supported with donations from other concerned animal lovers such as yourself. Here are a few animal rights groups fighting for animals worldwide that need your support:

  • The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): While their reputation has dulled a bit over the years, they do a lot to help animals in captivity.
  • Animal Aid: This UK-based organization concentrates on rescuing abused animals and relocating them, but they also work hard to educate the public and report on zoos with issues.
  • The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF): This group files lawsuits for animals in active need of help and provides legal representation on behalf of our furry friends.
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA): This group is dedicated to ending animal cruelty in zoos and aquariums.
  • Born Free USA: This nonprofit organization helps animalis, in captivity or in the wild, to be able to live their lives according to their needs. And, through their online form, you can report problematic zoos in your area to help them fight for these captive animals.

It should be noted, the ASPCA, in particular, has an official Position Statement on Zoos and Aquariums wherein it describes the necessary conditions that zoos and aquariums must meet in their exhibitions to be supported by the organization. The ASPCA believes that accredited and legitimate venues can greatly add to field conservation efforts that support the preservation of natural habitats for wild animals. 

The ASPCA also makes a distinction between accredited zoos and aquariums, which focus on education and conservation, and roadside menageries, which subject wild and exotic animals to poor exhibition conditions. Moreover, the organization believes that rigorous standards be met to provide suitably humane care for the captive animals.

The ASPCA is supportive of animal exhibitions in zoos and aquariums if venues meet the following conditions:

  • The venue employs individuals who are trained and educated in how to tend to the needs of the animals in their care, including physical and psychological needs 
  • Animal enclosures must meet or exceed AMA standards, and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) must enforce these standards
  • Venues push themselves to meet the more precise requirements needed for accreditation by the AZA 
  • Zoos offer displays that are educational and highlight the themes of wild habitat destruction, endangered species, and biodiversity reduction
  • Venues exhibit behaviors of humane treatment to their animals by meeting all physical needs, providing appropriate and safe social groups of animals, and using positive reinforcement methods for the training needed to assist in medical procedures, and providing beneficial mental stimulation to animals in confinement
  • Venues participate in breeding programs under strict control and take responsibility for all animals and any offspring, even after they have left their direct care, with “surplus” young prohibited other than to ensure social groupings and gender balances; no venue should transfer surpluses to “canned hunts,” medical research facilities or auctions, and no consideration should go to placing animals in the care of private individuals.

Contact Local Government and Advocate for Change

In the United States, only two federal laws–the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act–are in place to protect captive animals’ welfare, such as those in zoos. Indeed, most things requiring law and government enforcement occur more effectively at the local level. And local laws are most important for combating animal cruelty in zoos.

Some zoos can get away with animal cruelty and see no or very little reprimand because there are no laws or restrictions prohibiting them from their actions. Even if there are local or state animal protection laws in place, exceptions are made for farm animals, laboratory-testing animals, and even wildlife. And depending on the language and context of the law, zoos can be made legally exempt from these laws. 

In the U.S. alone, approximately 2,400 zoos are home to hundreds of thousands of animals, many of which do not have legal protection. Exhibitors are required to obtain a license and abide by Animal Welfare Act standards; however, these standards have received criticism for not being sufficiently protective of animals in captivity. 

Furthermore, federal laws often are poorly enforced, which results in large numbers of repeat violations in zoos that continue to exhibit animals outside of compliance with the law. 

Since state and local laws differ in their capacity, severity, and enforcement, many fail to override the Animal Welfare Act exemptions and fill the gaps in legislation it left behind. What’s more, only a few zoos seek out private accreditation, and even many private standards are criticized as inadequate and insufficient in protecting animal welfare.  

Write, call, email, or otherwise contact your local congress, mayor, or governor and push for legislation that will regulate zoo operations and protect the animals. Research any existing legislation beforehand so you can accurately address the specific problem you have with the law. And be forthcoming about what you want to accomplish. Be sure to cite an evidential point demonstrating your concern, and state what you want to be done about it. 

Here’s an example of something you could write:

“Governor Jones, 

I wish to express my concern about our state’s animal protection laws. Currently, the state only has legislation that protects domestic, companion animals, and family farm livestock; however, there is nothing that explicitly protects the rights of animals in captivity. 

The World Animal Protection group recently discovered that animal mistreatment occurs worldwide in many zoos that the public believed to be well-accredited by a trustworthy source. The abuses have resulted in injuries, illnesses, and deaths of animals worldwide. 

Our state must implement strict measures prohibiting any such mistreatment from being permitted in zoos that are operating in the region. Enclosed, you’ll find a petition that has been signed by 1,000 state citizens requesting that animal protection legislation be drawn up to address these concerns. I urge you to consider these matters quickly.”

And keep in mind that our elected officials are there to do the work of the people. If there is a large amount of the public voicing concern for something, politicians will feel pressure to act rapidly and work toward making a change. Encourage your family, friends, and other fellow-animal rights activists to also contact mayors and governors and request that laws be put in place that prohibit animal cruelty in zoos. 


Host a Fundraiser or Start Your Own Campaign

ASPCA invites you to join them in action and offer support via TEAM ASPCA to help you create a DIY fundraiser or start your own campaign to help animals in need. They offer great tips and resources on how to “turn your compassion into action” so you can take a stand in the fight to end animal cruelty in zoos. 

But you don’t need to go through any organization to do this. It’s easy to sign up for a free website and create a page that highlights your campaign. You can spread the word through social media and host events to raise awareness and recruit others. There are even a variety of ways to set up accounts to collect donations, which you can use to donate to animal rights groups and help fund your campaign. 

Fundraisers can be as simple as putting out some postings on social media or hosting small events at the community center or other common meeting ground in your neighborhood. This is a great way to get the word out about animal abuse in zoos and help raise money that you can donate to your favorite organization to help fight against it. 


Join an Animal Rights Group

If you want to help stop animal cruelty in zoos more directly, you can join an animal rights group and get active. Check out various national organizations to find a mission you want to support, and become a member of the cause–some may even have local chapters that regularly meet animal cruelty issues. 

Also, look for local groups in your area who may be staging public protests or boycotts; you can take part to help bring awareness to the cause and fight for animals in your own community. 


Stand With WAP for Higher Standards From WAZA

An investigative report published in 2019 by World Animal Protection (WAP) entitled “The show can’t go on” discovered widespread animal mistreatment occurring in 1,241 venues associated with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). 

According to WAZA guidelines, members are not to include animals in any display, show, or interactive experience where they are made to perform unnatural or demeaning behaviors. Nonetheless, WAP found 75% of zoos and aquariums affiliated with WAZA were offering irresponsible animal-interaction experiences to their visitors, including forcing captive animals to tricks and using them as props for photos.

WAP is taking action to end this abuse throughout the world’s supposedly credible zoos and aquariums and calling out the CEO of WAZA and the President of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), urging them to protect wildlife by implementing higher standards in animal welfare and strictly enforcing them at accredited venues. 

You can sign and send the email WAP has written to demand that WAZA revoke membership from all its venues currently providing irresponsible attractions to their visitors. We must insist that WAZA do its job as the global alliance of “the world’s leading zoos and aquariums.” 

Furthermore, until WAZA responds to these demands or animal welfare drastically improves, WAP urges everyone to avoid patronizing these venues: 

  • SeaWorld – San Antonio, USA
  • Jungle Cat World – Canada
  • African Lion Safari – Canada
  • Sea World – Australia
  • Puy du Fou – France
  • Zoo D’AmnĂ©ville – France
  • Cango Wildlife Ranch – South Africa
  • Mystic Monkeys & Feather Wildlife Park – South Africa
  • Zoo Marine – Portugal
  • Avilon Zoo – Philippines
  • Dolphin Island (Resort World Sentosa) – Singapore
  • Ichihara Elephant Kingdom – Japan

Final Thoughts

The best ways to help stop animal cruelty in zoos are to raise awareness and get active in the fight. Joining an animal rights organization is a great way to get involved, help expose issues, educate others, and even lobby governments to change animal protection laws. Even if you can’t dedicate time to this, you can always donate money to groups working to end animal cruelty. It doesn’t matter what you do to help; it only matters that you do something.

Stay impactful,

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