A story went viral this week about a boy who threw a rock at a flamingo at the zoo in Bloomington, Illinois. The flamingo was so badly injured she had to be euthanized. Outrage ensued from animal lovers all over the internet: Where were the boy’s parents? How could he do that? That poor, innocent bird!
What many don’t know is that zoos not only euthanize sick or injured animals, they also kill thousands of perfectly healthy animals every year. Dubbed “surplus animals” these include lions, giraffes, bears, or any other animal that the zoo doesn’t have room for. In fact, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums estimates that between 3,000-5,000 animals are “management-euthanized” in any given year – and that’s just in the EU. And those are the lucky ones. Other surplus animals have been sold to circuses, live auctions, even to slaughterhouses. Remember the story of Marius the giraffe who was callously shot, dissected, and then fed to lions by the Copenhagen zoo as children watched? He was a surplus animal.
Yet the healthy animals killed by zoos may actually be more fortunate than their countless kin who are forced to live out their entire lives in these places, confined in unnatural prisons. From arctic polar bears made to live in hot climates, to elephants, who would travel dozens of miles every day with their families, being forced to live in the solitary confines of an acre or less. There’s the story of a bear at the Toledo Zoo who died of dehydration because she was denied food and water for weeks during hibernation. And the story of penguins at the Scarborough Zoo in the UK who became so despondent, zookeepers began feeding them antidepressants. The list goes on and on and on.
All this cruelty can be explained by one simple truth: zoos exist solely for humans, not animals. Sure, we can tell ourselves that there are “good zoos” and “bad zoos,” that some zoos help with repopulating endangered species (though that point’s debatable). But at the end of the day, a zoo is nothing more than a modern-day freak show. It’s a despicable place that robs animals of their sovereignty and their dignity and attempts to turn them into nothing more than things to be gawked at. It’s sad and it’s wrong.