Needs in Captivity

Enrichment and consequences

"Environmental enrichment is how the brain is affected by the stimulation of its information processing provided by its surroundings or providing animals under managed care with environmental stimuli”- Wikipedia

Environmental enrichment allows captive animals the opportunity to exhibit their natural ability to solve problems and stimulate some of their senses. Although their natural environment can never be reenacted in captivity, enrichment provides them with some sort of stimulation and novelty.

A stimulating environment does not just consist of a well enriched enclosure but can also be provided by correct social grouping of animals, different methods of preparing food and include natural and artificial objects used to manipulate and promote exploratory play and investigatory behavior.

"Behavioural needs are not luxuries, they are requirements that we simply must provide. Captive animals have only what we are prepared to give them.” (UFAW, 1990).

Wild animals have been bred in captivity for hundreds of years but these animals still retain their natural instincts. These animals are not domesticated despite captive breeding. Wild animals behave instinctively and unpredictably. Frustration, stress and boredom, caused by captivity or cruel training methods, has triggered many animals to act out or rebel against their handlers, owners or members of the public. In these cases the animals are seen as the problem, not the situation. These animals are merely showing natural behaviours. This is where people should take a step back and ask what caused these outbursts?


Updated: 20 May 2016

Needs in Captivity

The needs of Wild Animals in captivity

Wild animals have been displayed to the public since the first zoo was opened by Queen Hatshepsut in 1500BC in Egypt. Ever since then zoos have been opened all over the world with the first South African zoo, the Pretoria Zoo (now the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa) opening in 1899. These new attractions were seen as a place to spend ones leisure time and existed purely for the public's enjoyment, without a care or thought for the animal's welfare or well-being.

However over the years the general public and the scientific communities' views have changed and continue to change regarding wild animals being kept in captivity. Wild animals complex and diverse needs cannot be met in captivity no matter how well enriched the enclosure or cage.

In today's modern age we have so many different ways to learn about and view animals in their natural environments. Travel both local and international nowadays is easily accessible to South Africans with the financial means, and books, wildlife documentaries and the internet are readily available.

People are able to learn about deep sea creatures and dinosaurs without having to see a live one up close, why then do we insist on keeping wild animals in cages for "education”. A well-produced documentary showing wild animals in their natural habitats showing natural behaviours will do a far better job at educating people than looking at an immobile or stereotyping wild animal in a cage. Putting wild animals on display in zoos and circuses is outdated and inhumane.

Wild vs Captivity

In the wild animals live in vast, ever changing environments and spend their days covering immense distances, searching for food, raising and protecting their young, interacting with others of their own kind, protecting their territories and various other natural activities.

In captive environments wild animals are forced to spend their days in the same predictable enclosures. They have the same daily routines and are forced to live in close contact with humans, which is completely unnatural for them. Abnormal stereotypic behaviours such as head-bobbing, swaying, pacing, bar-biting and vocalisation are often developed by captive wild animals as a coping mechanism.

These stereotypical behaviours are developed in environments that do not provide animals with a sense of achievement or keep them active. Furthermore these behaviours can be caused by boredom, frustration and depression. In the wild animals do not develop stereotypical behaviours. Stereotypic behaviours have only been documented in captive animals, human prisoners and the mentally disabled.

Wild animals don't just need food and exercise to thrive, they also need mental exercise and stimulation. Natural stimulants such as different sights, sound and smells they come in contact with in the wild, can never be provided in a captive environment. When we put an animal in captivity, no matter how natural or attractive the enclosure, we take away some of the most important qualities of that animals being.

The future

People who visit captive wild animal facilities spend very little time in front of an enclosure actually "seeing” the animal. Generally people rush from cage to cage just to have a look at what is in the cage. These animals are subjected to large crowds staring at them all day every day which is very stressful for them and further compromises their welfare.

People have consumer power and can choose not to support facilities that keep wild animals in captivity for profit, entertainment and display purposes. If there was no demand from the public there would be far less wild animals in captivity in South Africa. The public need to understand that animals in captivity are not able to express their most basic natural behaviours and they are denied most of their choices.

Housing animals in cages does not educate society on the animals and their needs but rather that is acceptable to keep wild animals in cages. It teaches them that animals can be manipulated for our own curiosity. Wild animals are sentient, intelligent and independent beings that can think and feel for themselves.

All of this illuminates the tragic consequences of supressing the needs of wild animals in captivity for our entertainment and or personal and financial gain. Deprived from their natural environments, social family groups and balanced natural diets these animals suffer immensely. Wild animals are wild and that's where they belong.

"The wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage. He is in front of it.” - Axel Munthe

Updated: 20 May 2015

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