To Zoo or Not to Zoo? That is the Question.

I wish parenting came with a book; one that was always right or one that at least, always agreed with me!

Early on, before kids, I came across the most sad forlorn elephant in a Vietnamese zoo. Chained, on a cement platform, I took one look and vowed I would never reenter a zoo again.

Soon after, I had the luxury of watching wildlife in Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Etosha National Park (Namibia). To say the experience was amazing and eye-opening is an animal understatement. I proclaimed that this was the only way my kids would ever see wildlife.

That is until I had a child and then 3 more, thanks to our blended family. That is 4 kids, 2 adults, which equals 6 tickets to Africa which amounts to one big financial headache. At least for us it did.

So then I research. Surely not all zoos are as bad as that one in Vietnam. Right? Couldn’t there be one or two that are safe, healthy and protective of the animals and their well-being; somewhere where our kids could see animals and not be breaking any animal taboos?

I tell myself that the research points to yes. Not all zoos are equal. So we go to New York City and of course, fall in love with the animals in the Bronz Zoo. I look around. It looks like they have covered all the angles. They must have. Right? This is the States, after all. And those baboons are so darn cute. We can’t even bring ourselves to leave.

Despite the fact we visited, my zoo quandary remains. And I worry that I could slide down that slippery slope right into one ugly unethical animal mess. Maybe I already have. I simply don’t know what and whom to believe.

As travellers become more wary of participating in tours that feel like “human zoos” in areas such as Thailand, I wonder this. If a “human zoo” seems inappropriate than is an animal zoo any better?

Faced with summer, looming on the horizon and billboards of cute pandas at the Toronto Zoo everywhere I turn, I ask myself: to zoo or not to zoo?

In the meantime, I will check to see if there are any cheap deals to Africa.

What are your thoughts on zoos? 


  1. Ayla · May 13, 2015

    Zoos are supposed to be for the protection and conservation of animals but unfortunately a lot of zoos don’t actually follow through on that and end up being there just for people’s enjoyment. Which of course isn’t far on the animals. Animals have always been a huge passion of mine – I’ve done volunteer work at animal centres in Africa and I’m a permanent volunteer at London Zoo now. Working in a zoo we do get a lot of people asking questions along the same lines as you but you can usually tell whether a zoo puts its animals first or not. Some zoos in places like Thailand and China are just awful and should definitely be shut down – it’s horrendous how some animals are treated. But other zoos do work really hard towards animal and wildlife conversation and try to make sure that enclosures (not cages!) are big enough and that the animals are healthy and happy. I love my work at London Zoo – I would not be working there if I thought the animals were unhappy or treated unwell in any way, shape or form.

    If you do your research on a place before going then you’ll be able to figure out which zoos are the good ones. I can highly recommend Colchester Zoo in the UK and Singapore Zoo. Both are fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lovetotrav · May 13, 2015

      Thank you so much for the detailed info. I do think it comes back to researching the zoo individually as it is not fair to paint them all with the same brush. Now it looks like we have a good reason to visit Singapore sometime which has never been on my radar. I am happy that enclosures are more common and zoos such as the London Zoo are doing worthwhile work that helps to support the animals, not hurt them. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. nylonliving · May 11, 2015

    I hate zoos too especially in countries where they are badly treated/chained etc. So sad, looking at their eyes. I like the free range zoos too or the best yet are the safaris.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. · May 10, 2015

    Interesting post and question to pose Cheryl. Like you, we’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. We’ve been to horrible zoos in places like Khartoum, and wonderful, state-of-the-art ones like Washington, D.C. And we’ve also been to Kenya and Tanzania. Most zoos are on the right track with larger enclosures and more natural habitats, but at the end of the day, this is a tough philosophical question. Personally, I would hate to deny anyone access to the animal wonders of the natural world, but the problem is how far we humans go to make happen. I can argue both sides, but to be honest, no matter how humane the zoo, I always feel sorry for the caged animals. ~James

    Liked by 1 person

    • lovetotrav · May 10, 2015

      Well-said James and I have to agree with you. And yes… this is a difficult one as there are pros and cons.


  4. dray0308 · May 9, 2015

    I am torn on zoos as well. But Disney has a huge outdoor open, free-range environment that my wife and I enjoy. Hope all is well!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A Journey With You · May 8, 2015

    I love to see animals, and the zoo allows that. On the other hand, I hate to see animals in cages. I have to read and remind myself of all our zoo does for endangered species in order to enjoy and support the zoo. Our zoo is mostly a force for good in the world, even though there are animals on display. Because so many animals are in danger in their own habitat, and the zoo tries to save those animal’s lives, I have to remind myself the issue isn’t white and black anymore. We need the funds from zoos and the research to protect many animals in the wild. It is a tough issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lovetotrav · May 8, 2015

      Yes, you said it so well. This is why I struggle with the issue. Protecting animals who are endangered is important and makes this whole decision so much more challenging. Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. njmagas · May 8, 2015

    I zoo, and I admit, some zoos do it better than others. The Kyoto City Zoo, in my opinion, is not a very good zoo. The animals are cramped and sad-looking. The Tama Zoo in Tokyo is much, much better. All the animals have space appropriate enclosures, freedom to move and to hide if they wish and in general, seem to be in good condition. I’m not against zoos per se, but I definitely hurt to see zoos that clearly don’t have the resources to adequately care for their animals.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lovetotrav · May 8, 2015

      I know what you mean. It is sad to see the state of affairs in some zoos. Thanks so much for the comment. It sounds like Tokyo does it much better than Kyoto in some things.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. barnraised · May 8, 2015

    I hear ya. I struggle with issues like this as well. Zoos, the circus, etc etc. It’s such a tough call to really know what’s right. And then add in the pressures of your children seeing advertisements and hearing from friends so they start asking to go…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sarah Ferguson · May 8, 2015

    I think it really depends on the zoo – there are some that are horrible (I’m looking at you, Beijing, and your poo throwing monkeys), but I’m not sure I would have ever developed as much of a love for animals if I hadn’t been able to go see them in zoos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lovetotrav · May 8, 2015

      Yes, I know. The zoos are so accessible for all of us which is why I am always so tempted to go. The Beijing one sounds nasty.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sarah Ferguson · May 8, 2015

        It’s a very tempting one, because they have pandas. But it’s much better to head down south and try to see them in the wild, or at the major breeding center for them (where they seem absurdly happy). The pandas don’t make a trip there worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lovetotrav · May 8, 2015

        Thanks Sarah for the advice. I appreciate it.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. de Wets Wild · May 8, 2015

    Here in South Africa, our national zoological gardens in Pretoria are fantastic and recognised as one of the best in the world. Their lion and tiger “enclosures” are large camps in a naturally vegetated hill setting – if the cats don’t want to be seen, they can hide away just like any wild cat would be able to do ( They participate successfully in the breeding of several endangered species from this country, the continent and the world, several of which are reintroduced to the wild.

    In a country like ours, where such a large proportion of the population do not have the financial resources to travel and visit the game reserves, and where newly affluent members of society have no inclination to visit “the primitive outdoors”, the zoo has an important roll to play.

    Even us de Wets, who get to enjoy our national parks and nature reserves more regularly than most, also enjoy a trip to the Pretoria zoo every now and then without feeling guilty about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lovetotrav · May 8, 2015

      Thanks so much for your input and your information. I really appreciate it knowing your love for wildlife. It looks like we can return to South Africa and go to Pretoria, Kruger and multiple other areas. You are so fortunate to have such a plethora of animals for viewing both easily and further, as you say, in the outdoors. Although I must admit the primitive outdoors is my absolute favourite.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC) · May 8, 2015

    In general, I say no to zoos. I’ve been to Toronto’s Zoo and I don’t care to go again. This is the same zoo that insisted for years that they were doing the best they could for elephants. . . finally, they were coerced into giving them up. There is an African Lion Safari close by. It’s not as cheap as the zoo but much less expensive than plane tickets to Africa. If you do go to the Safari, two tips: do not take your own car through and get discounted tickets at stores like Costco. Cheers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • lovetotrav · May 8, 2015

      Thanks for the info. I didn’t know about the elephants. Coerced to giving them up? Sounds like it was serious then. Trying to be better informed. I appreciate your comment and advice re: the safari closer by.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC) · May 8, 2015

        That was my take on the elephant hoopla. . . Bob Barker was even involved. lol The safari isn’t actually closer to you, sorry, it’s closer for me than the zoo. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • lovetotrav · May 8, 2015

        Bob Barker? I will have to look this up. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

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