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Dysfunctional Zoos

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.

Dysfunctional Zoos

The earliest reference to the term ‘Dysfunctional Zoos’ that I am aware of was in November 2006 and here it was actually used as an appropriate though out of zoo descriptive.

It next appeared in a talk given by Sally Walker at the October 2010 65th WAZA ANNUAL CONFERENCE. This was entitled “Dysfunctional zoos - can we level the playing field? time?”. She later expanded on her thoughts on this very important issue and wrote “Dysfunctional Zoos and What to Do” and published it in ‘ZOO'S PRINT MAGAZINE Volume XXVI, Number 4 April 2011’.

It is an important article and one which should be read by all and everyone working in zoos and those planning to work in zoos. Those working in good zoos already recognise the problems that exist with dysfunctional zoos and the damage they are doing to conservation. Those within dysfunctional zoos need to see themselves for what they are.



What is a Dysfunctional Zoo?

There always be a group of people who believe that all zoos are dysfunctional. They are the blinkered acolytes of the various anti-zoo groups who fail to recognise that all zoos are not the same. There are GOOD zoos and there are BAD zoos. The good zoos want the bad zoos closed down as much as and probably more than the ill informed anti-zoo groups. If these anti's were to do a little bit more real research then it may actually be possible to make a real difference.

In the terms of Sally Walkers excellent article a dysfunctional zoo is:

"a type of captive wild animal facility that does not function adequately (or at all) for even the most essential canons of zoos, e.g., education, conservation or research."


"animal collections open to the public which don’t function as conservation facilities, rather just the opposite"

It would be easy enough to presume or assume that this then referred to the zoos in the third world or zoos in undeveloped countries. This is far from true as some of the worst offenders, the most Dysfunctional Zoos are in the developed West. To make matters worse some of these have the ears of governments and so send out their message of ignorance to the world.

Having a lot of money, a fancy website, a plethora of YouTube videos, and regular donations to conservation bodies does not a good zoo make.

Dysfunctional Zoos are commercially exploitative. Nothing wrong with making money but to exploit the animals at the expense of genuine conservation, education and research is the mark of a zoo that knows no better and cares even less.

Clouded Leopard


Surely donations to conservation bodies is a good thing?

Without a doubt donations to conservation groups is a good thing. Such funds can be used for the protection of wildlife habitat, research, education and more. Where this goes wrong is when such donations amount to no more than bribes to the conservation bodies to turn a blind eye to what the donating zoo is up to.

Good Zoos have genuine sincere education programmes and do not promote rubbish as fact.

Good zoos belong to genuine officially sanctioned breeding programmes. Breeding animals is easy. Breeding animals is NOT a breeding programme. Sometimes NOT breeding is as important as breeding.

Good Zoos do not irresponsibly breed when there is no good zoo available or prepared to take the progeny. Passing on to a dysfunctional zoo should never, ever be contemplated. Far better to consider euthanasia.

Good Zoos do not purposely breed hybrid animals or generic mutations like white tigers or exhibit 'freaks' for public titillation.

Good zoos join their local membership organisation and so they can share knowledge and expertise.

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Anteater Baby


Read More About Zoos - Good AND Bad


Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 09, 2011:

Thanks feenix. I don't like dysfunctional zoos...they have lost their way.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 09, 2011:

Thank you Eiddwen - As a pro good zoo person I hate being dumped in with the rest. I need to spread the message.

feenix on May 09, 2011:

Peter, this hub gave me some new insights into zoos. In a previous comment to one of your hubs, I stated in so many words that I do not like the idea of zoos. But after reading this hub, I can see that a "good zoo" serves a very good purpose so far as preserving various species of animals.

Eiddwen from Wales on May 09, 2011:

It is indeed so nice to hear that there are indeed good Zoos around and I cannot agree more the dysfunctional ones do need to be removed.

Thank you so much for these hubs Peter.

Take care


Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 07, 2011:

Thanks Alicia. Yes good zoos are needed. We really should eliminate the bad and useless ones that do no more than line pockets.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 07, 2011:

Your hub contains very important information. Zoos are going to be with us for a long time, so we need to remove dysfunctional zoos! I loved the photos in this hub.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 07, 2011:

Thank you Sunnie.

Sunnie Day on May 07, 2011:

Dear Peter,

Thank you for making this clear that there is bad and good and cannot label things so clearly..I love animals and wish there was a habitat near or refuge of somekind I would be there in a minute..A wonderful hub..Up and awesome. Thank you.


Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 07, 2011:

Thanks Alastar. I have never been lucky enough to visit the North Carolina Zoo at Asheboro but I do understand that it ticks all the right boxes.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on May 07, 2011:

Superb hub topic Peter. Completely agree with your viewpoints. Over life have seen things such as bears condemned for life to enclosures they are barely able to turn around in; reptiles thrown in chicken pens en-mass and either left to starve or be bought, on and on. The Asheboro zoo in N.C. in contrast, is a natural habitat with the largest open spaced areas in the world. If were going to have them, this is the way to go in my humble opinion.

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