An article under the captioned heading by Don Pinnock, an environmental journalist, in the Independent on Saturday January 26 2019 prompted me to write this article.

The first point in my view is that the quaint sounding name ‘Zoological Gardens’ is a complete misnomer as it is in reality an animal jail which, in some cases, happens to be in a garden setting. You may well say the word ‘jail’ is a strong and inappropriate choice as a jail is where persons are incarcerated against their will. However bear in mind that such criminals are there because they committed some crime whereas the animals in the zoo has committed no offense of any nature, are there against their will and have had no say in the matter.
Of course there is the argument of how pleasant the surroundings have been made, etc. However the same is applicable to (some) jails i.e. the inmates have TV, a gym, an area to do physical exercise, go for a walk etc. Yet no matter how you spruce it up, it is still a jail and limited to such a small area, sometimes for life, can be sole destroying. Yet it is punishment that most of us will say is deserved.

So what is different in a zoo? The similar limitation of space and deprivation of the natural gregarious nature of the animal is a LIFE sentence which has a major impact on such wild life.

Look at yourself – you may live in a nice house, apartment or flat and in some cases have the privilege of a garden. Let’s say you can choose ONE room of your abode to live in i.e. sleep, cook, eat and bath BUT don’t despair: we’ll make it as nice as possible with surround sound, TV with all the channels available and you’ll even have a view of greenery thru your barred window. The downside is that you’ll NEVER be allowed to leave this room – is that fair? Oh and don’t forget: you don’t have to cook – your keeper will provide you regularly with the food of his/her choice! Is that fair? Of course not – so why do we do that to animals and birds?

The main thrust of my argument is that times have changed – when zoos were initiated (Around 1828) there was no National Geographic, Internet with numerous wildlife channels, YouTube etc. Furthermore there were no game reserves where animals could be observed in their natural surroundings. Now, in Gauteng alone within a two hour drive, there are over 30 of them – nationally there are many, many more. Yet we carry on inculcating the concept that captivity, whether it is a zoo or an aviary, is the norm, acceptable and to be replicated all over the world! And we don’t stop there – sea creatures are stuffed into aquariums and ‘Sea World’ where, just like zoos, humans can gawk at them and they must perform at our behest …. in my view simply disgusting and completely unacceptable.

If you look at the intelligence of most of these animals (e.g. elephants) and sea creatures (e.g. Dolphins), they are WAY more intelligent than us. Elephants have no telephones or Internet, yet they can communicate and identify the ‘sender’ over 10 kilometers by means of ultra-sonic sounds (! Dolphins and whales have similar capabilities and their sounds travel up to 10 000 miles ( Long before man could fly, many birds already started migrating huge distances all over the world e.g. the Steppe Buzzard comes all the way from Russia (According to National Geographic this migration applies to 4.5 million birds representing about 185 species – Why do we not respect this superior intellectual and physical ability as opposed to treating them like ignorami and ‘jailing’ them?

Sadly there is the perception that not only are humans entitled to incarcerate wild life but that zoos are a form of entertainment – can you believe it? Well I hate to tell you, you better because here is what a highly educated person has to say (As quoted in Pinnock’s article): Dr Condy former director of the Johannesburg zoo, believes zoos ‘..are in the family recreation (read ‘entertainment’) business …. competing with Randburg Waterfront and Bruma Lake’. What a sad state of affairs!

Let’s look at a few animals and the areas they cover daily in the wild and of which we deprive them in our zoos:

LIONS – A pride’s area can cover between 20 to 400 sq. km. and, despite being depicted as lazy, they can walk between 80 and 200 km per day (;;;

ELEPHANTS – They can walk between 4 and 11 km and in some cases 48 km per day (;
The vast majority of elephants now in zoos were taken from their homes and families in the wild. Zoos rob elephants of their most basic needs, including extended social relationships and the opportunity to walk long distances. … and travelling as far as 30 miles a day’.

SPRINGBOK – male territory is between 10 and 70 hectare (25 – 173 acres)(

RHINO – The range a rhino requires is 5 sq miles and they walk up to 10 miles per day (
So do yourself a favour – next time you have the misfortune to visit a zoo, think of the above space they require and compare it with what we’ve given them …. and hang your head in shame.

The one argument that gets repeated ad nauseam is the one of endangered species and rehabilitation. Given the changes mentioned above re the increased number of game reserves, this is by and large a fallacious argument and most of the animals and birds in zoos are not endangered. Furthermore non-endemic creatures should never be/have been kept in zoos e.g. a polar beer in Johannesburg!
Once you’ve convinced yourself of the de-merits of zoos, go to one of these game reserves and learn not only about the highly visible animals, but different grass types, the symbiotic relationship between wasps and certain fruits, ants and butterflies, etc. If you do this your respect for wild life and nature will grow and you’ll never visit a zoo, aviary or aquarium again and you’ll find any form of captivity abhorrent.

(C) Adv Louis Nel
AKA ‘louis-THE-lawyer’
February 10 2019