Captive by Gaston Lacombe
Lacombe on his project:
We relish the chance to see these animals up close, but we also often fail to notice the habitats in which we keep them. That is why I photograph from a regular visitor’s perspective, instead of doing a behind-the-scenes documentary. I want the viewer to revisit what they see in zoos, and look beyond the animal. So, really, these photos are not about the animals - they are about us. It documents what happens when humans use animals as objects of display and entertainment.
1. Zoos are miserable places for animals
A CAPS film, No Place Like Home, highlights the plight of animals held captive in zoos.
In 2010, a CAPS undercover investigator filmed sick animals left untreated and dead animals to rot on floors at Tweddle Farm Zoo. CAPS had to take rabbits to a vet to have infections treated and after our expose local police confiscated a monkey who had been kept alone and given cake and other junk food to eat.
Think safari parks are better than ‘traditional’ zoos? Woburn Safari Park was keeping its lions locked into small enclosures for 18 hours a day. A government zoo inspection report in 2010 said: “The animals were very crowded and there was no provision for individual feeding or sleeping areas. There was no visible environmental enrichment. Some of the lions exhibited skin wounds and multiple scars of various age, some fresh, some healed.”
In late 2012, another safari park was shamed as West Midland Safari Park was exposed for providing white lion cubs to a notorious circus animal trainer, who sent them to a travelling circus in Japan. The lions remain in the circus today.
A government-funded study of elephants in UK zoos found “there was a welfare concern for every elephant in the UK.” 75% of elephants were overweight and only 16% could walk normally, the remainder having various degrees of lameness. Less that 20% were totally free of foot problems.
2. Zoos can’t provide sufficient space
Zoos cannot provide the amount of space animals have in the wild. This is particularly the case for those species who roam larger distances in their natural habitat. Tigers and lions have around 18,000 times less space in zoos than they would in the wild. Polar bears have one million times less space.
3. Animals suffer in zoos
A government-funded study of elephants in UK zoos found that 54% of the elephants showed stereotypies (behavioural problems) during the daytime. One elephant observed during day and night stereotyped for 61% of a 24-hour period.
Lions in zoos spend 48% of their time pacing, a recognised sign of behavioural problems.
4. Animals die prematurely in zoos
African elephants in the wild live more than three times as long as those kept in zoos. Even Asian elephants working in timber camps live longer than those born in zoos.
40% of lion cubs die before one month of age. In the wild, only 30% of cubs are thought to die before they are six months old and at least a third of those deaths are due to factors which are absent in zoos, like predation.
5. Surplus animals are killed
A CAPS study found that at least 7,500 animals – and possibly as many as 200,000 – in European zoos are ‘surplus’ at any one time.
Animals are regularly ‘culled’ in UK zoos. In 2006 the whole pack of wolves at Highland Wildlife Park were killed after the social structure of the pack had broken down. In 2005 two wolf cubs and an adult female were shot dead at Dartmoor Wildlife Park. The vet reported: “Selective cull due to overcrowding and fighting in the pack” and “Further cull of cubs needed”. In 2001 a DEFRA zoo inspection of Dartmoor Wildlife Park in October 2001 found that “several significant dead animals” were stored in a food freezer “for taxidermy in the future”.
The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) said in 2007 that member zoos were being actively encouraged to kill unwanted animals, including tigers, if other zoos did not want them and if they were hybrids. It said that such animals take up space and keeper time.
In 2010, zoo trade bodies ral
lied to the defence of a German zoo which was prosecuted for breaching animal welfare laws after it killed three tiger cubs because they were not pure-blooded (hybrid).
In 2011, an exposé of Knowsley Safari Park led by CAPS following information provided by a whistleblower showed the safari park to be in contravention of legislation on disposal of carcasses as well as raising queries over handling of firearms. A former employee of the safari park alleged: “culling was being used as a means of training instead of being carried out in the kindest and most humane way.”
6. UK zoos are connected to animal circuses
CAPS exposed a UK zoo in 2009 that was a member of the trade body BIAZA (which supposedly upholds the highest standards) as having a breeding connection with a controversial
animal circus. Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm had been breeding camels from the Great British Circus for several years and in 2009 obtained three tigers from the circus.
A female tiger at the zoo had three stillborn cubs and another who died at three weeks old. The mother also died.
The same zoo was found to doing business with another circus animal trainer in 2013. This was the same trainer who had been sold lion cubs by West Midland Safari Park and sent them to a travelling circus in Japan.
7. Animals are trained to perform tricks
Many zoos train animals to perform tricks as if they were in a circus. Performing sea lions, birds and elephants can be seen at many UK zoos.
Some training of elephants has been done using electric goads. CAPS infiltrated a training session held at Blackpool Zoo in 1998 and filmed elephants being trained to lift their feet and head, hold sticks in their mouths and jabbed with elephant hooks in the shoulder and head.
In 2010 it was revealed that an elephant at Woburn Safari Park had previously been trained using an electric goad.
Blackpool Zoo proudly publicised its training of a baby sealion for shows in mid 2013. This is in spite of the fact that the UK Government has agreed to ban similar shows in circuses on the basis that: “we should feel dut
y-bound to recognise that wild animals have intrinsic value, and respect their inherent wildness and its implications for their treatment”.
8. Animals are still taken from the wild
In 2003 the UK government gave permission for the capture of 146 penguins from a British territory in the South Atlantic (Tristan da Cunha). Those who survived the seven-day boat journey from Tristan to a wildlife dealer in South Africa were sold to zoos in Asia.
In 2010, Zimbabwe planned to capture two of every mammal species found in Hwange National Park and send them to North Korean zoos. This included rhinos, lions, cheetahs, zebras and giraffes as well as two 18-month-old elephants. The plan was only stopped after international pressure by a coalition of organisations including CAPS.
70% of elephants in European zoos were taken from the wild.
A CAPS study found that 79% of all animals i
n UK aquariums were caught in the wild. Sea Life aquariums admitted to taking animals from the wild as recently as 2013, but refused to provide information on how many of the animals held by them were wild-caught.
9. Zoos don’t serve conservation
Zoos claim to breed animals for eventual release to the wild but breeding programmes are primarily to ensure a captive population, not for reintroduction.
Lions are a popular in zoos, but the vast majority “are ‘generic’ animals of hybrid or unknown subspecific status, and therefore of little or no value in conservation terms.
Zoo director David Hancocks said: “There is a commonly held misconception that zoos are not only saving wild animals from extinction but also reintroducing them to their wild habitats. The confusion stems from many sources, all of them zoo-based… In reality, most zoos have had no contact of any kind with any reintroduction program.”
Captive breeding is considered by some conservation scientists to be a diversion from the reasons for a species’ decline, giving “a false impression that a species is safe so that destruction of habitat and wild populations can proceed”.
Zoos spend millions on keeping animals confined, while natural habitats are destroyed and animals killed as there is insufficient funding for protection. When London Zoo spent £5.3 million on a new gorilla enclosure, the chief consultant to the UN Great Ape Survival Project said he was uneasy at the mismatch between lavish spending at zoos and the scarcity of resources available for conserving threatened species in the wild. “Five million pounds for three gorillas when national parks are seeing that number killed every day for want of some Land Rovers and trained men and anti-poaching patrols. It must be very frustrating for the warden of a national park to see”.
Measures to protect giant pandas’ habitat also supports hundreds of species of mammals, at least 200 birds, dozens of reptiles and over half of the plants known to exist in China.
In 2013, CAPS revealed that the UK’s largest aquarium operator, Sea Life, could trace less than 3 pence per visitor to in situ conservation projects.
10. Zoos fail education
A CAPS study of UK aquariums found that 41% of the animals on display had no signs identifying their species – the most basic of information.
A US study found no compelling evidence for the claim that zoos and aquariums promote attitude change, education, or interest in conservation in visitors. The study authors urged zoos to stop citing a zoo-funded study which claimed an educational benefit from visits “as this conclusion is unwarranted and potentially misleading to consumers.”
In 2010, a Government-commissioned study found that “Concerns remain, however, with regard to the lack of available evidence about the effectiveness” of conservation and education projects in zoos.
CAPS’ work to end the suffering of captive animals can only be achieved with your support. We are a registered charity and receive no government funding. Please donate today to allow us to continue to be a voice for the animals that cannot speak for themselves. Thank you.
 M Harris et al. The welfare, housing and husbandry of elephants in UK zoos. University of Bristol, 2008
 Wide roaming animals fare worst in zoo enclosures. Guardian, 2.10.03
 M Harris et al. The welfare, housing and husbandry of elephants in UK zoos. University of Bristol, 2008
 G Mason & R Clubb. Guest Editorial, International Zoo News, Vol 51, No 1 (2004))
 R Clubb et al. Compromised survivorship in zoo elephants. Science, Vol 322, 12.12.08
 G Mason & R Clubb. Guest Editorial. International Zoo News, Vol 51, No 1 (2004))
 Zoos kill healthy tigers for the skin trade. Sunday Times, 22.7.07l
 Code of Ethics & Animal Welfare. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, June 2010
 Woburn admits it gave bull elephant electric shocks. Sunday Times, 27.6.10
 Taken by force. BBC Wildlife, February 2004
 R Clubb and G Mason. ‘A Review of the Welfare of Zoo Elephants in Europe’, RSPCA, 2002
 Nicholas Gould, Editorial, International Zoo News, Vol 49, No 5 (2002)).
 Quoted in ‘Who Cares for Planet Earth?’ B Jordan, 2001
 Snyder et al. Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery. Conservation Biology, Pages 338-348. Volume 10, No. 2, April 1996
 Panda mating frenzy hits zoo. BBC News, 4 May 2007 )
 L Morino et al. Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors? A Critical Evaluation of the American Zoo and Aquarium Study. Society and Animals 18 (2010) 126-138
(via Captive Animal Protection Society)