It’s pretty safe to assume that we’ve all made a trip to the nearest zoo at one point or another. Regardless of how you feel about these establishments, the opportunity to see tigers, elephants and gorillas up close is an exhilarating prospect. However, anyone who has ever set foot inside of an establishment housing captive wild animals has also likely witnessed stereotypic behaviors.
These abnormal behaviors describe Zoochosis, the psychological impact captivity has on wild animals. The term was first coined in 1992 by Bill Travers, and refers to any captive wild animal exhibiting abnormal behaviors, including animals in zoos, aquariums, testing (lab) facilities and pseudo-sanctuaries. These behaviors serve no clear purpose or function and are destructive to an animal’s mental, and often physical, well-being.
According to one study, the importance of behavior is as significant as internal organs are essential to the health of an individual. Animals that display normal behaviors allow for homeostasis, which in turn allow internal conditions to remain stable. When a captive animal is not capable of modifying or controlling its environment, they begin to cope by exhibiting stereotypic behavior. Scientists believe this abnormal behavior yields momentary relief as the body releases endorphins to combat the stress.
While many renowned facilities pour millions of dollars into programs designed to keep captive animals “happy,” it’s evident that stereotypic behaviors are representative of poor animal welfare in captivity. Accredited zoos and aquariums are quick to argue that their animals are healthy and thriving, but simultaneously dismiss claims suggesting the animals are capable of depression and anxiety.
How Facilities Deal With This Behavior
In recent years, we’ve had an increase in the number of whistleblowers coming forward supplying us with mounting evidence that corroborates research suggesting captivity deeply affects captive animals.
According to Laurel Braitman, many zoos utilize psychopharmaceutical drugs to ease stereotypic behaviors because, as she states, they’re “less expensive then reconstructing a two million dollar exhibit.” Sadly, this approach is nothing new. It’s common for facilities to administer psychopharmaceutical drugs to temporarily alleviate the symptoms rather than address a much larger problem.
Common Stereotypic Behaviors
- Pacing – Movement in a distinct pattern. Some animals display slow deliberate and prolonged movements while others may display quick movements lasting only short periods.
- Bar Biting – The continuous sucking, biting or licking of walls or bars in the animals exhibit.
- Headbobbing/Swaying/Neck Twisting
- Regurgitation – Often seen in primates, animals have been known to regurgitate their food after eating it only to eat it again or play with it.
- Self Mutilation/Overgrooming – Seen often in animals kept in solitary confinement.