Wolves Don’t Belong in Zoos
Woodland Park Zoo recently wrote a blog touting their work on behalf of gray wolves in the wild. But what about the ones confined at WPZ? And what are people who visit them really learning?
If you’ve ever visited Woodland Park Zoo and gone to the grey wolf display, you would see them pacing back and forth. This unnatural behavior called stereotypical behavior. It’s the mind’s way of coping with stress, trauma and crushing boredom. Their impoverished life causes this disturbing and expressive behavior. They have no prey to hunt or capture, courting and mating is not normal, exercise is limited and nothing, absolutely nothing, changes in their static display.
Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, a NARN campaign worked to retire the suffering elephants at Woodland Park Zoo to PAWS sanctuary in California. During our campaign, we educated the public about the inherent cruelty of confining elephants who are highly intelligent and far-ranging. We believe this allowed people to extend their awareness to include other wild animals confined in the zoo. The fact that paid gate attendance to Woodland Park Zoo has steadily declined for well over a decade is evidence that people are getting it!
This graph shows that the 10-year trend is unmistakable and accelerating; people are not paying to go to Woodland Park Zoo in the numbers they used to. In fact, the 2019 paid gate attendance (pre-Covid) was at the 2004 level despite the population boom in the Seattle/Puget Sound region over the past 15 years. Zoo Memberships have also not kept up with the population boom. This decline included many of the years when the elephants were still in Seattle.
We believe the reason for this downward trend is that the public’s attitudes are changing. This was found to be true in a 2017 survey commissioned by Friends and conducted by GMA Research, a respected national polling company.
Here are two very revealing survey findings that contradict WPZ’s claim that people need to see an animal in order to learn about him/her:
- Only 1% of respondents said they learned about wild animals by going to the zoo even though the zoo was offered as a choice.
- 85% of respondents believe that people are changing the way they think about keeping wild animals in captivity.
The captivity industry did their own research which debunks WPZ’s claim that people who visit a zoo become inspired to “make conservation a priority in their lives”. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums found that actions people would take to protect wild animals and their habitat significantly DECREASED after a zoo visit. In other words, the captivity industry invalidated their own time-worn claim that seeing a wild animal in a zoo results in people caring and taking action to advance conservation. It does not.
We know that wild animals in a zoo retain their wild instincts. It takes many generations of selective breeding to domesticate an animal and that’s not what zoos do. This means that everything important in a wild animal’s life is denied to them. Caged animals cannot engage in some of the most natural behaviors such as courting, mating, hunting, foraging, digging, burrowing, swimming rubbing up against a tree, running and, perhaps the worst of all, they cannot flee. Caged in a zoo, wild animals suffer physically and psychologically.
There is a humane way to learn about animals and conservation. All throughout Friends’ campaign, we offered an alternative to the void of elephants leaving Seattle. We, along with a Seattle City Councilmember, suggested using technology as the humane way to champion education and the conservation of wildlife. We promoted virtual connection as a way for people to immerse themselves in the lives of wild animals where they live. This would be a way for people to learn how animals raise their young, how they outwit competitors, how they avoid their enemies and how they play their vital role in keeping the ecosystem healthy. Technology can open worlds utterly beyond the potential of any traditional zoo—and without any of the suffering.
While Woodland Park Zoo may do some good work in conservation, they are doing it at the expense of suffering animals. A visit to a zoo is primarily for entertainment and for the sake of our humanity zoos must change.
Alyne Fortgang is Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo and led the decade-long effort to retire Bamboo, Chai, and Watoto to PAWS sanctuary in California.