Have you ever looked at an animal in your local zoo exhibit and wondered if they were truly better off there than if they were in the wild? A growing number of people are beginning to believe that zoo animals are better off than animals who are left in their natural habitat. To thrive means that an animal is growing and learning to survive in such a way that allows it to flourish. Although animals in captivity are provided with their basic needs to survive and more, wild animals are more likely to thrive and reach their full potential.
Animals in the wild thrive because they face and overcome greater environmental challenges than animals who live in a zoo. An animal living in a zoo most likely has an enclosed area with a consistent climate and nearly everything they need to live comfortably. Wild animals, on the other hand, have to face harsh environmental challenges like droughts, floods, and forest fires. They can also be challenged with heavy rains and rising water levels, which can cause them to lose their homes and shelter from predators (Hiller).
Day in and day out, wild animals have to face or find shelter from these challenges while captive animals don’t have to worry about either of those things since zoos assure that they will have comfortable and safe living conditions (Wilcox). Additionally, animals in the wild are also challenged by changing food sources due to such environmental challenges. When wild animals are faced with forest fires and droughts, this impacts the food chain greatly.
For example, if a herd of gazelles is faced with a long drought or a wildfire in the savanna, their food supply can become awfully limited, which could cause competition among the herd or could become completely depleted. They have to learn how to deal with events like this in order to survive (Bostock). If all the gazelles die off, what are the lions and cheetahs supposed to feed on? What about the hyenas? Hyenas prey on lions and cheetah as one of their larger meals. How will this affect the smaller mammals in this area? Will they hyenas start to prey on the smaller animals?
In contrast, an animal in captivity will never have to worry about these trying conditions because when it becomes hungry, zoo personnel take care of it right away (Wilcox). While both animals can catch sicknesses and become injured, wild animals often have a harder time dealing with these instances because they do not receive human aid like zoo animals do. If a zoo animal becomes sick, veterinarians are there to prescribe medicines or vaccinations they need in order to cure the animal’s problem, but if an animal in the wild catches a sickness from drinking infested waters, that animal simply has to overcome the disease on its own (Hiller).
Wild animals are also more likely to become injured because they encounter predators more often than zoo animals do. They do not receive the same protection as captive animals do, so they learn how to overcome such things on their own (Bostock). Because wild animals have to find a way to deal with environmental challenges, get to their food sources, and deal with predators, they are often much larger than regular zoo animals (O’Regan). Research shows that a gorilla from the zoo can weigh two hundred to three hundred pounds; however, a gorilla in the wild, on average, weighs fifty pounds more than the zoo gorilla.
Why is this? Firstly, zoo animals do not have to search for their food like wild animals do. Secondly, they are enclosed in a smaller area with a few accommodations that keep them entertained and at least active enough to stay fit rather than running free in the wild. Because of this, the zoo animals do not get the same amount of exercise that wild animals get. While zoo animals are able to play on their small playsets and eat their regularly-scheduled meal, wild animals are at play in the trees much like Tarzan was. Many wild animals have to swing, jump, and bound in order to reach their shelter spaces and/or food supply.
Wild animals have a much more active lifestyle that allows them to put their muscles and abilities to the test every day. Since animals in captivity do not have the same opportunities to exercise nor do they have to exercise due to everything being given to them, they do not have the muscle build that wild animals have. Researchers say this lack of exercise, in turn, stunts most zoo animals’ growth (Bostock). It has also been proven that muscle weighs more than fat. Because zoo animals are not exercising their muscles in the same way that wild animals are, they often weigh less and are much smaller than wild animals (O’Regan).
Animals in the wild also thrive because they are not forced to breed with limited choices like zoo animals are forced to breed with. In other words, wild animals have more opportunities to breed among the most dominant pairs. Animals have a much stronger need to restore their populations than humans do, but captive animals often do not feel that they are ready to reproduce due to their captive conditions. Researchers have noted that animals usually have an easier time breeding away from the public eye. Because zoo animals are in front of the public for most of the day, they do not receive the privacy they would prefer.
This forces zoo personnel to make accommodations for these animals such as keep them away from the public and possibly use ‘artificial assistance to get two zoo animals to breed together. However, wild animals can breed with the companion of their choice whenever they like and produce the most dominant offspring possible (Bostock). Finally, since extra stress is put on wild animals to provide and manage many things on their own, wild animals’ cranial volume is usually greater than that of a zoo animal. Zoo animals are provided with every one of their basic needs to survive.
They do not have to deal with harsh environmental changes, search or hunt for food, find shelter from predators, suffer through sicknesses or injuries, or keep in shape because zoos provide them with protection from all of those worries. However, a wild animal has to deal with if not all then most of those challenges at some point in its life; some of them are even daily stresses for these animals. Researchers have proven this by taking young members from a species of the same geographical area, putting half in captivity while leaving the others in their natural habitat.
Then, they ran tests to view their stress levels and brain activity as well as measuring their skull and cranial volume growth. They found that animals in captivity had lower stress levels than animals left in their natural habitat. The animals left in the wild showed higher stress levels, a larger skull, and increased cranial volume than an animal raised in captivity. This is greatly beneficial to wild animals because studies have shown that zoo animals begin to die when their activity levels progressively decrease (O’Regan).
Given this information, one can acknowledge that zoo animals may be given significantly more aid than wild animals are; however, the amount of stress put on wild animals due to lack of assistance from humans is the reason why they thrive. Wild animals have learned to handle the stress of environmental challenges, food shortages, sicknesses and injuries, difficult access to food sources, find shelter from predators, and reproducing with a dominant companion all on their own. While zoo animals have been provided with protection from those worries, wild animals obviously are not.
This allowed the wild animals’ skull and cranial volumes to exceed that of zoo animals’. If an animal does not have to stimulate its brain because it knows everything it needs is going to be given to it, then it can potentially lose its purpose, and the animal will begin to degrade and eventually even die just as someone who does not exercise can lose his muscle strength. Because animals in the wild are continually faced with these stresses their brain will always be stimulated, which, in turn, helps wild animals to thrive and reach their full potential since brain activity is positively correlated with life expectancy.