August 9th, 2013
01:23 PM ET

Is it time for America to close its zoos?

Costa Rica, known for its biodiversity, has decided to close its zoos because cages are bad for animals. Costa Rica's Minister of the Environment, Rene Castro says the decision was based on childhood experience.

"One day, we took the parrot out to the patio, and a flock of wild parrots passed, and the parrot went with them... We fed her with food and affection. ... all these things that we as humans thought she liked. And when she had the chance, she left." Castro said.

Erin Burnett says she always thought that zoos were important, inspiring children to respect and love animals.
But, after reading about Costa Rica's closing its zoos, She wonders whether the United States should follow suit.

Is it time for America to close its zoos?

Filed under: Animals • E-Block • International
soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Nicole Dyck

    Close them down, nobody wants to see animals in a zoo...

    March 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  2. WildReikiShaman

    Closing the zoos is not what the animals want. What they want is to be listened to, and respected. Zoo animals are ambassadors for their species—representatives of the Other Nations—and they are here to help us heal the broken covenant between mankind, the animals and Mother Earth. How zoo animals are perceived is tied into the fate of all life on this planet.

    “What is missing from all zoos is the awareness that animals possess a spirit, something our indigenous ancestors knew and respected. Animals are not just physical beings—they are also energetic and spiritual—and that reality must be honored for health and wholeness of all beings. No decision should be based solely on science or logic—for animals and people are more than that.”—from An Invitation to All Zoos in Honor of Marius the Giraffe

    It’s time to change the way that zoos are managed and, in so doing, potentially reverse the loss of habitat and life that is happening for the wild relatives that zoo animals represent. When you do that the potential for global shift increases exponentially.

    March 19, 2014 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  3. Steven Lynn

    Your original point about abuse is exactly correct.

    February 4, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  4. Barbara Yencho

    To confine an animal for its entire life to entertain a human for 15 minutes to half an hour is the highlight of animal abuse. The human moves on and never sees the animal again. The animal remains behind, trapped to perform for its meals. Anyone paying for tickets to these shows or cages is a contributive factor to the public being scammed and the animal living a life of abuse.

    October 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Reply
    • Steven Lynn

      Your original point about abuse sums it up.

      February 4, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  5. steve

    Y not just tell all Americans to release their pets, dogs and cats in the streets. Please stop it with this nonsense.

    October 26, 2013 at 12:56 am | Reply
    • Rachel

      People aren't saying to go let a lion or polar bear go run around in the streets. What if you were caged all your life? Born in a cage and grew up in a cage. You got meals 3 times a day and people came and stared at you? Waved at you? Took a picture of you? Maybe a person throws something at you every once in a while. Wild animals should be let out into the wild, not kept in a cage. These wild animals that are being kept in a cage, in captivity, get depressed, and their lives get shorten due to this depression. People are not saying shut down these zoos and let these animals roam the streets. We want these animals to be put back into their natural habitats, where they can run free and be truly happy. Put animals that are endangered on the endangered animals list and put them in the reservations until they are no longer endangered. Animals that get injured get helped and let back out into the wild where they can run free. These animals are being kept in captivity. Let’s let them be free and happy. Let them hunt and fight.
      If you want to keep zoos, that’s what you want. Just think of the animals and don't go around saying, "Y not just tell all Americans to release their pets, dogs and cats in the streets. Please stop it with this nonsense."
      We don't just want to release these wild animals into the streets. What we are fighting for is not nonsense either. We are fighting to let these wild animals out of captivity and into the wild. We are fighting to make these animals happy.

      November 1, 2013 at 12:27 am | Reply
      • Barbara Yencho

        I agree, Rachel. TV shows such as Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom certainly got the message across a lot more clearly. Seeing how animals actually behave in the wild vs. what they look like behind a cage, or what they can be trained to do, is when we had educators v. profiteers in charge.

        November 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  6. Dennis

    We should close all the Cities, abolish the welfare state, and let humans go free to roam the earth and hunt wild animals for their sustenance, and humans once did in the natural setting before the onset of civilization.

    As others have pointed out here, there's no need for people to see actual live animals up close in order to learn and gain appreciation for them nowadays, because they can simply watch "Animal Planet" instead. Likewise, there is no need to personally meet people of other cultures and traditions anymore, since one can easily get the remote and switch to the National Geographic Channel. Frankly, we don't really need Cable News Channels like CNN wasting time on absurd topics like "American closing its Zoos" when there are much more pressing issues that need to be addressed.

    October 25, 2013 at 11:45 am | Reply
  7. starcrunchIA

    The idiocy on display here is staggering. There is absolutely no comparison between a zoo and a circus. None. Zoos have done a world of good in keeping species alive and healthy. What – you didn't know that zookeepers were actually highly educated people, and that zoos were more than just places to entertain kids?

    That's not to say there aren't alternatives to zoos (and in fact, zoos themselves have improved immensely over the past 50 years). But go ahead and free all the elephants back to their natural habitat...and watch them die out in a couple of decades because of poaching and encroachment.

    It might not be the ideal world you want, but zoos do a lot of good.

    October 25, 2013 at 9:48 am | Reply
    • Rustbelt Democrat

      I agree. Zoos have done a world of good with conservation.

      October 25, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Reply
      • Danielle

        Conservation should not equate captivity. When habitat is restored/conserved, animals will too be conserved. Makes no sense to breed wild animals for captivity!

        October 25, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Reply
        • Benni

          Indeed, Danielle! Costa Rice is doing a lot to make sure these animals are rehabilated either into the wild or other more humane refuges.

          November 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  8. SVK

    I would LOVE to see all zoo animals released into the wild and living their lives the way they are supposed to. But with the rate with which some animals are becoming extinct in the wild, I am worried that the zoos are the only chance we have to actually preserve those species, albeit in captivity. Don't you wish that more Tasmanian tigers were kept in zoos around the world in the 1930s, for example? It is a sad reality, and I wish it was different, but until we make it safer for rhinos, and gorillas, and tigers, and pandas, etc. to roam the wild, it might be wise to have some tucked away and cared for...

    October 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  9. FTBC

    I love the conservation work zoos do. More than that though I love the experiences they gave me as a teenager volunteering at a local zoo. I have petted an adult jaguar. Played with baby tigers. Fed crocodiles and been picked up and carried by an affectionate elephant. Zoos gave me a lifelong passion for animals and I would hate to see them abolished just because they could stand to improve some of their facilities and practices.

    October 24, 2013 at 11:53 am | Reply
    • Danielle

      You clearly do not have any idea what an elephant must endure to be "trained" for a human being to ride/be carried. Conservation should not equal captivity.

      October 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  10. Brittany Reed

    All Zoo's and Circuses should be Closed and/or NOT include Animals! It is NOT Mentally Healthy for ANY Animal to be Confined and/or treated badly (especially for entertainment), they could die earlier in life due to depression, which is obviously really sad. Let's put them all back in their Natural Habitat's and find a GOOD SOLUTION to Keep them ALL SAFE.

    August 28, 2013 at 11:47 am | Reply
  11. San Francisco Animal Liberationist

    All zoos should be closed, not only in Costa Rica or America.

    August 27, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  12. Susan Oakey

    There is the presumption on the part of zookeepers and zoo employees that those of us who oppose keeping wild animals in captivity have not studied the subject. They are mistaken. If zoo employees think that living in an enclosed setting (however embellished with greenery) and being gawked at by a hoard of great apes makes for a pleasant life, I suggest that they volunteer for the first ever human zoo. I would buy a ticket.

    Back before video cameras began capturing awesome footage of wild animals in their native habitats, one might make the argument that zoos were the only place where humans could develop an appreciation of these amazing creatures. That can no longer be said with a straight face. And the argument that we must see these animals in the flesh in order to appreciate their unique qualities is ludicrous. I think any number of children appreciate dinosaurs – however, I am not aware of any child who has actually seen a dinosaur in captivity.

    August 25, 2013 at 11:27 am | Reply
    • Werone

      I agree. A zoo should evolve, and be responsible for local ecosystems. Let's build a smarter zoo, let's redefine what a zoo is. Zoos do inspire wonder and appreciation for bio diversity, but let's do a better job.

      October 25, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  13. Terry

    Sanctuary's are the answer. If the animals choose to see you it is their choice. You can watch them on a video feed but it is their choice. They are not able to live in the wild without help but Zoo's are not the way to go. Years ago we went to a Dolphin Sanctuary and we only saw one for a moment. They had the opportunity to go out to the sea and come back to the sanctuary. they had been doing tricks at sea world and other such places.

    August 20, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  14. mac

    so many comments from people who have absolutely NO first hand knowledge of how zoos operate. if you are getting all of your information from the internet and animal rights groups you ate only getting biased info and peoples opinions. of you don't have facts and personal knowledge, don't be so quick to judge. zoos aren't perfect, but unless you can convince your 7 billion human friends out there to respect the planet, zoos have an important role to play in conservation.

    August 14, 2013 at 11:41 am | Reply
    • Carnists Say The Darndest Things!

      Yeah, I agree. Thanks to zoos, 7 billion human friends are doing such a splendid job of respecting the planet. Although I am sure that circuses and Sea World have done their bit. But it was zoos, mostly.

      In fact, we need to close off all national parks and eco-tourism businesses and move wild animals in enclosures in cities, where they can teach people to respect the planet with responsible technology such as concrete, iron bars and artificial flora.

      August 16, 2013 at 1:47 am | Reply
  15. Sarah

    We should close all zoos and ban the circus. It's cruel to have these animals live in cages for their entire lives, it's a prison! Why can't we just leave animals alone?

    August 14, 2013 at 11:08 am | Reply
  16. TAS

    I am a zoo keeper, I love my job and love the animals I take care of on a daily basis. I have a degree which I use to ensure these animals recieve the best possible care. We use enrichment to fend off boredom and to encourage natural behaviors (foraging for example) of these animals. From first hand experience, I can tell you exactly how much a child learns from being at the zoo and how excited they get when they make a connection with an animal. These are the children who will grow up to make a difference. Also, to the person who made the comment that we kill the adults or abuse them to get babies. ABSOLUTELY NOT. How ridiculous. I could keep going on and on, however, I encourage every single person who is against zoos to go speak in person to a keeper, to maybe do a little bit of research (as this article provides none) hopefully you will change your minds

    August 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  17. Jane Reyka

    Agreed, close the Zoos but keep Sanctuaries where injured or animals who cannot survive in the wild can be rehabilitated or where they can be given a good home. Sanctuaries would need to be focused on the animals well being, not their presentation to gawkers. There are many good wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers that should remain. We need to protect animals, not exploit them.

    August 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  18. Kathleen King

    All zoos should be closed !!! Animals are not entertainment.

    August 13, 2013 at 9:17 am | Reply
  19. Maritza

    Is time to protect the voiceless. Poor animals they suffer horrible and they can't protect themselves.

    August 12, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Reply
  20. Nell Okie


    August 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  21. BigCatRescue

    Absolutely! America should close its zoos, circus acts and any other use of big cats. These animals belong in the wild and will never get the protection or funding they need as long as they are viewed as property in the U.S.

    August 12, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  22. steve

    I vote we get rid of zoos. I vote we should also get rid of circuses that have animals. You would think that they train those elephants with positive reinforcement and treats; wrong! they train them by beating them with bullhooks! Check out circuses.com There are other ways to educate and entertain kids without zoos and circuses. This is completely unnecessary!

    August 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  23. Provoked

    I totally agree that zoos ought to be closed. There is very little that is learned from caged animals. Research shows that people spend less than 7 seconds in front of each "exhibit". What can be learned from an animal who is imprisoned and unable to exercise their most basic desires?

    Then there is the sad reality of what happens to the older animals? Most zoos sell tickets with the ability to present "new babies". The old ones eventually are "retired" to inferior "road-side" zoos or worse, to "canned hunting" establishments.

    Just a few moments of empathy should show us that this is not what the animals would want... It is terribly cruel and impossible to justify this kind of confinement to sentient others for our "entertainment". YES! The zoos need to go!

    August 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  24. Brianna

    Just another note! What gives us a right to imprison animals for our pleasure, entertainment, and "EDUCATION PURPOSES" which is what was stated to me by a "docent". We can read books, look at pictures of animals in the wild. We don't need to imprison and put wild animals in fences and cages. Although, Animal Kingdom at Disney World has a very unique perspective of wild animal education. Rodeos, power and cruelty over the helpless and innocent. Zoos, prisons for the helpless and innocent. Circuses, cruelty for the helpless and innocent. They are as sentient as we are, and sometimes I wonder if not more so than us. AHIMSA!

    August 12, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  25. Brianna

    I have felt zoos should not exist for quite a while. Also rodeos, circuses with animals, etc. However, what will happen to all the animals when the zoos close?

    August 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Reply
  26. Melody Richardson

    If you want to learn the truth about zoo's read this letter: http://www.pawsweb.org/pat_derby_letter_to_aza.pdf. Once you read this letter and learn the truth about Zoo's and the way elephants are treated and cared for you will all agree it is time to close them down. All Zoo's should be closed, and circuses that exploit and use animals as entertainment should be banned, as EVERY one of these organizations torture and abuse the animals in order to get them to submit to performing tricks that they would not otherwise do in the wild. THis is disgusting and all of this should have been illegal decades ago!

    August 11, 2013 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  27. Karen Swa

    We shouldn't close zoos because they give people a connection with the natural world. If people do not have that connection, they will not care about or try to preserve and protect that natural world that is in dire need of protection. Many people are "out of sight, out of mind" in their thinking. Same thing goes for national parks and wilderness, we must keep them and protect them.

    August 11, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Reply
  28. jsm11482

    Zoos that take in non-wild animals and/or have good, real, breeding programs are okay. But I'm sure a lot of zoos are not good. The National Zoo, as in this video, is a wonderful place to visit. And I agree about circuses – shut 'em down.

    August 11, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  29. janice mclean

    what will happen to the animals from these zoos if they are closed as they will not be able to hunt for themselves in the wild or look after themselves as they have been in captivity or are they going to be rehabilitated to be able to survive in the wild it will be terrible if they have to be euthanasia

    August 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  30. Meaghan Edwards

    NO, absolutely not. PeTA and its ilk (including all the anti zoo organizations), need to be ignored if they aren't willing to work with, instead of against zoos. Modern zoos are essential to conservation; we would be without many endangered species if it wasn't for them.

    August 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
    • Danielle

      conservation does not equate imprisonment of animals!

      August 13, 2013 at 2:33 am | Reply
    • Carnists Say The Darndest Things!

      "we would be without many endangered species if it wasn't for them."

      SUCH AS...?

      August 16, 2013 at 1:50 am | Reply
  31. Kasandra

    Canada too! Zoos AND circuses!

    August 11, 2013 at 10:50 am | Reply
  32. Curran Russell

    Incarceration simply for the purposes of education (which can more easily be had from videos) and for the purposes of amusement and entertainment is cruel. Animals belong in their homelands with their families. Animals are bored to the point of neurosis and torment in zoos. The space is tiny and there is little to do but go mad. Sanctuaries for injured animals or animals unable to be reintroduced to the wild should have little contact with the gawking public. They are not here FOR us, but WITH us and deserve our compassion and respect.

    August 11, 2013 at 9:06 am | Reply
  33. Chuck

    There's opportunities to see and learn about wold animals in zoos. The don't need to be abolished, just make enclosures, etc., like the animals would have in the wild. Sanctuaries that allow observers. Yes, get rid of cages and isolation, but to never see these amazing creatures would be a travesty.

    August 10, 2013 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  34. cathygascoigne

    Our sensitivity to the plight of animals and their endangerment comes directly from our familiarity with them – and that comes from seeing them at zoos. Zoos have done great work in breeding animals, learning how to help them and saving their habitat.

    August 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  35. Yvonne Lopez

    Yes! It's time to close zoos! They are pathetically sad prisons for animals that do nothing for conservation nor do they teach people anything about compassion or respect for the creatures we share the planet with. They are solely for mans greed and entertainment. It's time to shut them down.

    August 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  36. Amyfeilder

    YES!!!! Close all zoos! Animals deserve to be free!

    August 10, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  37. Diane Snyder

    zoos is not better they are not in there natural environnement ....animals in captivity are deprived of what is natural and important to them, they can get very depress ...if you google it a bit about zoos there is a lot of infos there ...not better for the animals at all

    August 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Reply
  38. shannon

    Yes, Close them down. Let's evolve into a species that doesn't feel the need to use others for our entertainment. It's barbaric and cruel.

    August 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Reply
  39. thisunamericanlife

    Zoos, aquariums and animal circuses should be closed down. Studies have shown that children do not actual learn much during a visit to the zoo. They are not seeing the animals in their natural habitat and the animals are stressed, bored, lonely and not exhibiting normal behaviors for their species. None of us would want to be caged, even if we were the last of our species. These animals want freedom, choice of friends/family, their natural habitat. While zoos are promoted as educational facilities, they are actually big business. The babies bring in big money in marketing to visitors and the older animals are often sold off to filthy small roadside zoos or canned hunts. The sources for the animals are more often than not killing the adults to steal the young or breeding in captivity in horrible conditions. For a great overview of the history and reality of zoos, read "Thought to Exist in the Wild". I am so glad to see this story and poll here. Thank-you!

    August 10, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  40. thisunamericanlife

    Both circuses and zoos should be banned. Studies have shown that children visiting zoos do not get much of an education about the animals. Most of the animals exhibit behaviors that show they are bored and lonely. None of us would want to be kept in a cage away from our choices, family, friends, home habitat....even if we were the last human on earth. We would just want freedom. Many animals try to escape on a regular basis. Orangutans are known to escape just to be able to spend time in trees with their loved ones. Read "Thought to Exist in the Wild" for a great overview of the history and reality of zoos and the suppliers of the animals.

    August 10, 2013 at 11:57 am | Reply
  41. Riley henne

    No zoos or circuses!!

    August 10, 2013 at 4:39 am | Reply
  42. bkyogi

    Make using animals in circuses illegal. Cirque Du Solei and the Big apple circus don't use animal performers and they're great.

    August 9, 2013 at 11:53 pm | Reply
  43. Courtney Scott

    Yes, close the zoos, start by freeing the elephants, who, being the largest land mammals on earth, are confined to cramped quarters in zoos. They suffer from foot rot and arthritis because all they do all day long is pace on hard compacted surfaces. Elephants need to roam over miles of soft grasses, forage on trees and swim in rivers. Retire all the animals, start with the elephants by freeing them to sanctuaries. Children only learn about enslavement from zoos, they don't learn how animals actually behave in their natural habitats. Start regional wildlife refuges, move the animals there and allow visitors to see them from a safe distance.

    August 9, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Reply
  44. PamelainVA

    Perhaps, not zoos, but definitely close or ban circuses that exploit and use animals as entertainment. The animals in circuses are treated way more cruelly than animals in zoos. BAN ALL CIRCUSES!!!!!

    August 9, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Reply

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