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Zoos - Problems for the animals

Animals affected

Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians, Mammals






As has been mentioned, the problems attributed to the facilities in zoos don’t just take into account the lack of space, but also the isolation and the lack of stimulus as a result of living alone in denaturalised compartments.

Regarding the conditions of quality of life of animals in zoos, it should be noted that:

  • Animals should always have a place to take shelter and hide from public view. It is essential to the nature of wild fauna to flee from human contact, so not having such a refuge could cause them a high level of stress, and if this goes on for a long time it brings about abnormal and stereotypic behaviour.
  • A programme of environmental enhancement for each species should be designed to offer the animals tools and structures which stimulate them, so that they may do other things and spend their time, as far as possible, the way they would in the wild.
  • The social behaviour of each animal should be known, also the relationships they establish with other individuals of the same species and with the other species that share their natural habitat.
13% of the animals in Barcelona zoo were born in the wild.

All the deficiencies related to the above factors, together with other important factors such as the shows and interactions that the animals are forced to perform, mean that they may develop a wide range of disorders and abnormal behaviours, such as the ones listed below:

  • Eating disorders: bulimia, repetitive vomiting, ingestion of vomit and regurgitation can all be observed. It is common in gorillas and chimpanzees.
  • Coprophagia: it consists of playing with and/or eating excrement, wiping it on the walls, on the windows, etc. It is common in gorillas and chimpanzees.
  • Self-harm: the animal causes physical damage to itself, such as biting its tail or paws, hitting its head or pulling out its hair, among other things. It is frequent in felines, bears and primates.
  • Apathy: the animals are indifferent, they don’t react to any stimulus. It can be observed in many species and is common when individuals of social species are isolated or separated.
  • Aggressiveness: intense or regular aggression towards other individuals or objects. It may be due to living together in groups with inadequate structures, an excess of dominant individuals, the stress caused by frustration, etc.
  • Stereotypic behaviours: that animals perform compulsively and repetitively, with no aim. It is common in many species: elephants, tigers, bears, etc.
  • Pacing: it consists of walking from one side to the other, always following the same path. In some cases the path may be clearly traced into the floor. It is especially common in big cats, but may also be observed in other species such as hyenas, racoons, etc.
  • Turning in circles: walking in a defined circular pattern, placing their paws in exactly the same position each time. It is common in bears and elephants.
  • Games with the tongue: continually licking the walls, bars, doors, etc. It is common in giraffes and camels.
  • Rocking: constantly rocking the head and shoulders, sometimes the whole body. It is common in elephants and bears.
  • Excessive grooming: compulsive cleaning, for example, excessive licking or pulling out fur. It is common in primates, and also in bears and parrots, which pull out their feathers.


Our action

At the state level

Through InfoZOOS a coalition made up of the organisations ANDA, BORN FREE and FAADA, created to bring about effective change in the way wild animals are managed and treated in zoos.

  • We lobby the authorities so that the legislation is applied to zoos and those that don’t comply are given penalties or they are closed down.
  • We sue the centres which break the law.
  • We carry out inspections in zoos and write the corresponding reports for the authorities and the centres themselves.
  • We share information regarding the suffering of wild animals living in captivity, especially zoos.

What can you do?

  • Tell your family and friends, especially children, about the problems animals in zoos have.
  • Visit a wildlife recovery centre. That is where animals that have been removed from situations of abuse or abandonment are kept. They will help you to understand the problem areas associated with keeping animals in captivity. If you have children you could take them to see educational documentaries, the theatre, a walk along the beach, get to know the fauna that lives in the woods and mountains, to dog and cat homes, or to help out at an animal sanctuary. There are many alternatives to zoos. 
  • Find out about Law 31/2003, 27-10, on conservation of wild fauna in zoos and let us know of any anomaly you may observe in these centres, taking photos or videos when possible.


Other sources



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