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Are animals more satisfied in the zoo or in the wild? If in the zoo, how do you know? And Why?

Dear Gladys

Thank you for your question. I also wish to thank the authors of the websites I used.

First of all, good zoos no longer take animals from the wild, so many zoo animals have never known life in the wild and scientists cannot tell if they would be more satisfied in the wild than in a zoo. There are a few animals that zoos have released into the wild. Some of the animals adapt, while others return to the release site to be fed. Please note that it can be difficult to determine how some animals feel. For example, bears do not have expressive faces. Some animals may 'smile' because they are stressed.

Animal Rescue Crusade (!captivity/c220n) compares life for animals in the wild and in zoos. Please note that I have met several people who work at zoos and care a lot about animals and I do not believe that they would be cruel to animals. I have heard of cases of zoo  animals being beaten and have seen elephant chained to the ground and various animals in small enclosures, so they can barely turn round.
Last Chance for Animals ( says many zoo animals show neurotic and atypical behaviour or “zoochosis.” This occurs due to boredom, depression, frustration, a lack of mental and physical enrichment and removal from their natural habitat and social structures. Signs of zoochosis include: bar biting; coprophagia (consuming and playing with excrement); self-mutilation; circling; rocking; swaying; pacing; rolling, twisting and nodding the neck or head; vomiting; frequent licking and excessive grooming. I have seen several examples of zoonosis and have talked with people who do not like zoos because of seeing distressed animals. Please note that good zoos are trying to improve zoo enclosures so that animals can behave in a more natural way. They also know about animals showing zoonosis, which may be due to the way they were treated in their former home. There are zoos that look after animals from laboratories and circuses that treated the animals badly. I have seen social animals kept alone and it seems that these animals may depend on contact with visitors for their stimulation.

It seems that some animals are not satisfied in zoos, but this does not mean that the same animals would be more satisfied in the wild, where they may be at risk of predation or suffer from dominant group members. Zoo keepers can remove a stressed animal from a group, but a wild animal can be subject to stress for long periods of time. Animal Rescue Crusade (!captivity/c220n) says zoo animals may injure and kill humans, but there are also cases of wild animals showing similar behaviour.

Some animals adapt better to zoos than do others and, if they were born in the zoo and have access to enough space, food and companionship, probably live acceptable lives. They may suffer stress, but so do pets and humans. There are animals that do not seem to adapt well to captivity. This is often due to lack of space and stimulation. There was a recent BBC Horizon programme ( that highlighted problems in zoos. Many zoos are trying to improve enclosures, but there are still zoos that keep animals in small, bare cages, where I doubt that animals would be satisfied. I have also visited pet shops, where some animals may damage their claws trying to climb up glass, so stress in wild animals is not confined to zoos.    

I hope this helps.

All the best


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Jonathan Wright


I can answer questions about wild mammals and other animals, as well as extinct animals and zoos. I am not an expert about every animal species. I can look up information from books and the internet, but can't verify if all the information is true. Please don't ask questions about: 1. Pets. I am not a vet. Please contact a vet if your pet is ill. You may need to spend some money if you want your pet to live. Don't get a pet if you don't know how to look after it and if you can't provide it with the space, food and possible companions that will help it live a healthy life. Don't take animals from the wild, unless they are ill and/or injured and you can protect them until a wildlife charity can help. It is cruel to take animals from their parents, especially if the parents will look for the babies, while putting their other babies at risk. You may be breaking the law by keeping wild animals or you may need a licence to look after some species. Please check with a local wildlife group. 2. Eggs: Please don't remove eggs from nests. The mother birds provide the right temperature for the eggs and won't sit on them if the temperature is warm enough for them to develop naturally. It is illegal to remove eggs of some species and, unless you have an incubator or a broody hen, the egg may not develop. If you are allowed to touch the eggs, you can candle them to see if they are fertile. If theys aren't fertile, they won't hatch. 3. Fights: Please don't ask about fights between different animals. These questions assume that individuals of two species fight each time they meet and that one species will always be victorious over another. This is untrue. There are cases where a live mouse has been fed to a venomous snake, bitten the snake leading to the snake's demise. 4: Diseases: Please ask doctors or other medical experts about diseases that you may catch from animals. I can't advise on how to deal with viruses, bacteria etc.


I have a zoology degree and have been interested in animals since I was two. I am a zoo volunteer at London Zoo. I have appeared on a BBC Radio Quiz, 'Wildbrain'.

WWF. ZSL. Natural History Museum. RSPB. London Bat Group.

Newsletters of London Zoo volunteers and the London Bat Group

BSC degree in Zoology. 'A' level in Zoology. 'O' Level in Biology.

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