Dating back decades, no matter what part of the world, one of the great pastimes has always been visiting a zoo. For some reason, zoos tend to resonate with anyone and everyone. Children are fascinated with animals as something so wildly different gets their imagination going. Adults enjoy observing them as they represent everything we aren’t and their beauty can be captivating, only truly admired up close and in person.
People tend to associate zoos with positive thoughts as most folks who are walking around the animal enclosures have a smile on their face and leave thoroughly satisfied, happy with their visit. But there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes at zoos across the world that many of us are completely in the dark about, sometimes because ignorance really is bliss.
Here are twenty-five things that happen at zoos that we would rather not know about.
25 New Animals Are Quarantined
Because animal transfers between zoos is a practice that takes place often, it’s fairly standard for new arrivals to be quarantined from the rest of the general population. This process typically takes place over the course of one to two months with the new animal spending all of its time in solitude.
This is to ensure that the new transfer does not pass on any diseases it may be carrying, while allowing zoo staff to closely watch the animal’s health and tend to it before allowing it to interact with others.
24 Dental Issues
Because of the processed food that some animals are fed, sometimes this results in the development of severe dental issues. This requires significant and costly care by veterinarians to rectify dental problems in certain animals.
For predators, these issues can be even more damaging as the animal’s natural ability to hunt with its canines is altered, sometimes causing them pain. This is a problem in many zoos that plague large hunters like bears, lions and tigers.
23 Penguins Don’t Smell Pleasant… At All
When visitors walk up to the penguin exhibit, they may not necessarily think there’s anything off about it, but many don’t realize there is a concerted effort of significant proportions by zoo staff to eliminate the smell.
If it weren’t for these measures, no one would go visit their enclosure, considering penguins are some of the worst smelling animals in the entire zoo because their excrement is infamously putrid.
22 Families Are Separated
In one of the sadder truths about the things that go on behind the scenes at zoos across the world, it’s a reality that families within each animal species are separated quite often. In fact, it’s a pretty regular occurrence that takes place daily. This is to accommodate other zoos that are in need of a certain animal species. When newborns come into the fold, they are often removed from their family and moved to other facilities to meet a certain count.
In much harsher instances when there is a need to control the population at certain zoos, sometimes they are given or sold to ranches, pet stores, or research labs.
21 Animals are getting HUGE and it's Plaguing Zoos
Throughout most zoos across the world, it has become common for a significant number of animals to be overweight. Two major factors contribute to this harsh reality. Zoo animals simply do not get the necessary exercise to keep body fat from becoming an issue and they are also fed several meals throughout the day.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that lots of food and lack of movement will eventually lead to unhealthy animals that develop obesity issues in older age after spending most of their lives in a zoo.
20 Conservation Can Set Animals Back
It should be noted that conservation efforts by zoos are done with the best intentions, focused on the preservation of species and individual animals in danger of extinction or loss of life. But it’s also important to note that despite their great intentions, conservation efforts can set animals back a great deal.
When an animal is brought into captivity to help with conservation efforts, many times it can never be set back into the wild because it has lost much of its ability to survive under such extreme conditions after being given so much specific care.
Hunting prey, escaping predators, socialization and other important skills can be lacking after being in captivity, which would all lead to a short life in the wild if ever released.
19 It’s Expensive to Feed The Animals
Most people don’t realize how expensive it is to feed all of the animals found in a single zoo. The cost to feed them is a significant portion of a zoo’s budget, usually being the largest expense.
For example, according to the website, Did You Know Facts, “elephants consume up to 600 pounds of food every day, which adds up to $15,000 per year” while “a group of baby Marabou storks cost over $10,000 apiece to feed within their first 100 days of life.”
Zoos also have to account for very specific dietary needs for each species or even individual animals, which can also inflate costs further.
18 Their Diets Aren’t Always Healthy
Because the cost of feeding animals can become so exorbitant, the sad reality is that sometimes zoos feel compelled to take some shortcuts when it comes to diets. Although they make their best effort to feed animals the food types that are necessary to sustain their specific physiological needs, sometimes they have to feed animals processed food, no different than the types of foods we put in our bodies. This often comes in the form of cheap, but tasty food with little nutritional value.
17 Conservation Efforts Don’t Always Make Financial Sense
This might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes conservation efforts don’t make a lot of sense when it comes to the money that is poured into these initiatives. Although those leading the charge have their heart in the right place, sometimes it simply makes more sense to allocate this money into protecting the natural habitats of these animals rather than housing them in zoos and animal sanctuaries, which can be extremely costly.
According to research by the website MSN, “it is fifty times more expensive to keep an elephant in captivity than conserve their wild counterparts.’
16 Escape Attempts Aren’t Unheard Of
Although this might sound like something out of a movie, it is not uncommon for animals to attempt to escape from their enclosures or the zoo, altogether. It is impossible to know why escapes are prevalent, but it should come as no surprise that many experts believe zoo animals become tired of their limited space and stunted experiences in captivity.
Some of the more impressive attempts typically come from the primate family as their brains are more highly developed, resulting in constructing makeshift ladders out of the bamboo and branches found in their enclosures as well as the destruction of recording devices.
15 Inbreeding is an Issue
Because zoos are essentially very controlled environments that are focused on growing the population of certain species in captivity, they are often limited in their options for breeding. This means that inbreeding is a serious issue across zoos everywhere with offspring often being born of sibling animals.
According to MSN, “the practice can cause mental and physical handicaps" and more. The white tiger is a perfect example of inbreeding. Although it’s a beautiful cat to look at, many cubs are born with health issues.
14 It Really Is Mostly for Entertainment
According to MSN, a recent study on zoo statistics showed that nearly nine out of ten visitors go to zoos go for entertainment value while less than one out of every ten go for educational value. This essentially means that although much of the reason for zoos operating are for conservation purposes, the only way to sustain their existence is to treat it as a recreational place.
This forces them to find ways to make the animals more entertaining rather than focus on their research and science to further animal species lifespans.
13 This Isn’t Really a Secret, But Zookeepers Are Dedicated People
Most people assume that zookeepers are dedicated to their craft, but it’s probably not common knowledge that they are among the most devoted of any career. According to the site, Did You Know Facts, “zoos receive literally hundreds of applications just for single animal care, and even if you do get hired, you’ll start at a salary of less than $29,000 per year.”
To go through the years of training, application process, and put in the number of hours for this amount of money is further proof that zookeepers are truly in it for the love of animals.
In many cases, they work far more than forty hours a week, sometimes even sleeping in their zoos, ready to respond to any emergencies for animals that require special care.
12 Play Time Exists
Playtime, also known as “enrichment time” is vital to animals that live in zoos. Because zoo animals don’t get the necessary exercise and natural activity that is conducive to their regular lives in the wild, zoo keepers have to help keep them stimulated through enrichment activities. As MSN puts it, “all mammals require more than simple food and shelter to be satisfied with life – we need both physical and psychological stimulation in order to truly thrive.
To accomplish this enrichment, zookeepers work to get animals to display behaviors as they would in the wild.”
11 Sanctuaries Can Be Deceiving
Because there are no set guidelines or rules that regulate when or how an organization or place of business label themselves as a “sanctuary”, it means the word is used loosely by many in the industry. These places mask themselves as organizations dedicated to the preservation of animal life, when they are often merely a business looking to make money off the entertainment value of wildlife.
This also applies to animal rehab centers, which is a shame because donations and charitable organizations often tend to help the places that go by these names the most.
10 Sleep Patterns Are Manually Adjusted
Attracting paying visitors is what keeps a zoo going and this is directly tied to paying customers being able to see the animals interact and move around. If they only ever slept, attendance would be negatively impacted. Zoos have to account for this fact most especially when it comes to nocturnal animals.
They do this by making the animals reverse their sleeping cycle through an adjustment cycle of bright lights during the night until it becomes the norm to sleep at night like most other animals.
9 Zoochosis is a Real Thing
Defined by dictionary.com as “atypical behaviour brought on by activity”, zoochosis is a real condition that countless zoo animals experience during their lifetime. Because captivity is not a natural living environment to them, animals can begin to act differently to cope with the severe change, which includes aggressive behavior, nervous twitches and many other symptoms. Zookeepers have to be on the lookout for these problems, ready to help address them.
8 So is Zoothanasia
As the name suggests, a harsh truth when it comes to zoos is the practice of having to deal with population control. When there are far too many offspring of a certain species and neighboring zoos aren’t ready to take them in, many are confronted with the reality of having to put them to sleep.
In many cases, zoos make every attempt to transfer them or at the very least, send them to sanctuaries or facilities, hoping for their survival.
7 Strict Panda Regulations
According to the website Mental Floss, zoos outside of China “must rent the animal from the Chinese government for a decade. Yearly lease rates can be close to $1 million and if a panda dies due to human error, China imposes a hefty fine of roughly $400,000.”
Pandas are some of the most popular animals in any zoo and often attract the biggest crowds so the hoops and hurdles zoos need to traverse are deemed more than worth it, along with the significant amount of money it costs just to house them.
6 Lifespans are Shorter
Although this goes contrary to popular belief, it’s a fact that many times, animals in the wild, on average, live longer than those in captivity. Seems very odd considering there are far more dangers in the wild, but for a variety of factors at play, animals in conservation often live shorter lives.
There are more diseases they are exposed to around other animals and humans, their diets are not what they would typically eat, with much of it processed food, as well as atypical behavior that goes contrary to their natural instincts.
5 Transferring Animals is a Difficult Process
The process of transferring animals in between zoos is a nightmare and one that anyone in the industry rarely enjoys dealing with. According to the site Did You Know Facts, “the accepting zoo needs a ton of information in order to properly care for an animal – details about health and behavioral issues, feeding anomalies, and the amount of training the animal has or might need, to name a few.”
When an animal is moved from one facility to another it means there was a significant need to do so, whether it was for medical reasons or breeding needs.
4 We Don’t See All Animals That Live in the Zoo
When you visit an exhibit, there’s a good chance you are not seeing all of the animals that reside in that enclosure. Many animals are housed in the back, where zoo visitors have no access to. This typically means there are major conservation efforts taking place for a select species which means displaying them is a distant second in terms of importance.
Newborns are also kept behind the scenes to ensure they get the proper care in order to reach a healthy adulthood.
3 You Can Actually Get Kicked Out
It’s a pretty rare occurrence, but people can actually get thrown out of a zoo for a variety of reasons. Breaking rules is a big no-no and zoo staff are trained to watch for patrons who are keen on bothering or upsetting the animals. This includes trying to scare animals, banging on their glass enclosures, throwing things at them or into their exhibit. Unfortunately, there are always a few bad apples amongst a crowd of people who are looking to have a good time, so kicking people out has to happen from time to time.
2 Zoo Patrons Are Susceptible to Becoming Sick
This might come as a surprise to some, but animals carry certain diseases that have little to no effect on them, but certainly do on humans. Their immune systems are drastically different than ours, so being careful around animals is vital to our health. They can pass along some of these diseases, especially if there are petting zoos.
It’s not unheard of for visitors to contract things like salmonella, so it’s best to always sanitize if there was any contact with animals during a visit.
1 Zoo Vets Make Less
Compared to regular veterinarians, zoo vets actually make less than their peers. It all comes down to the type of organizations they are classified as. Private practice veterinary clinics are profit based and therefore offer vets better pay whereas zoos, which fall under the non-profit sector, must offer their vets significantly less pay. This all goes back to how those who work in the zoo industry tend to be incredibly dedicated people with a passion and love for animals.