The first zoos were called menageries and date back as far as 3,500 BC in ancient Egypt. They were considered a royal treat, however, until the 19th century, when they became a publicly established business in London, Dublin, and Paris. It was here that they began to entertain and educate the public.
As a result of animal activism over the last 30 years, many zoos have replaced metal bars with glass cages and moats. Most zoos employ full-time vets and offer top-notch medical care for the animals. Dart-guns and hosing animals as punishment is also taking a back seat to positive reinforcement.
This sounds great, but then the reality sets in. The average lion or tiger has 18,000 times less space to roam in captivity than they do in the wild, while polar bears have a million times less!
African elephants live 3 times longer in the wild than they do in captivity and in 2008 a government funded study in the UK realized that 75 percent of the elephants in captivity were overweight, and only 16 percent could walk normally.
To think that animals are treated well in zoos is a misconception. Though some are, many are not and this horrific treatment of animals, like in Woburn Safari Park, where, in 2010, lions were discovered being left in cramped, unsuitable enclosures for 18 hours a day, is unconcsionable.
The list of animal abuses goes on. Elephants are found to be "trained" with 4,500-volt electrical goads resulting in over 50% of UK elephants experiencing behavioral problems. Animals pushed to the brink begin to experience "stereotypy," a repetitive or ritualized behavior caused by the boredom of confinement, where they exhibit excessive licking, self-mutilation and nervous swinging.
According to a 2013 study by Dr. Paul O'Donoghue, a conservation geneticist with the Aspinall Foundation, less than 1% of all zoos practice any real sort of animal conservation. Many inbreed the animals, having little "genetic integrity" and "no conservation value."
It's time that the world woke up to the atrocities of animal captivity and released these poor creatures back to their natural environment.