Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Born to be Wild?


Cheetahs at Emdoneli Lodge, South Africa 2016

We all love visiting the zoo on holidays to see all the exotic animals from around the world or even get up close and personal with Australia’s native animals at various wildlife parks, such as the Phillip Island Wildlife Park, however, are we truly seeing the ‘wild’ animals or a well-trained lookalike? Sure the animals look and sound like the wild animals we see on the discovery channel, but are they the same in captivity as they are in their natural habitats?

Dr H. Hediger says, “the main biological problems of zoos can be grouped under the following headings: Space, Food and Animal-man relationship”, in the wild animals must search for shelter, hunt for food and defend their habitats from predators, yet in captivity their shelter and food are supplied and they don’t have to compete with other animals. This may sounds like the perfect life, having everything practically given to you, but at what cost? It is natural for animals to have to compete for the best, it is the survival of the fittest. So when everything is readily available, how will the behavior of these animals be impacted? If a human were to be given free accommodation, food and protection, they would likely become lazy and bored, so why not animals?

Lucy P. Birkett and Nicholas E. Newton-Fisher studied the behavior of captive, zoo-living chimpanzees and they concluded, “our overall finding was that abnormal behavior was present in all individuals across six independent groups of zoo-living chimpanzees, despite the differences between these groups in size, composition, housing etc.” these abnormal behaviors included eating faeces, rocking back and forth, excessive grooming and more. This is just one example of how captivity can effect behavior.

Most zoos and other wildlife facilities have built enclosures to suit the natural habitat of the specific animal, compared to the stone arenas they were once kept in.

These images represent the conditions in which animals have been kept in captivity (to the left an old zoo where animals are kept in cages, to the right a recent enclosure)

However, no matter how natural an enclosure may look, it is still artificial. Animals often don’t interact with other species and are exposed to humans, whether that be the keeper feeding them, or the many tourists peering at them and taking selfies. Are we exploiting them?

I was lucky enough to spend a month volunteering in South Africa, part of which included working at Emdoneni Lodge on their cat project where we built new enclosures for Cheetahs, a protective fence for a Serval cat and her newborns, as well as feeding the Cheetahs, Servals, African Wildcats and the Caracals. Here we learnt, out of the four only the Caracals were considered wild, as unlike the other three, they could not be domesticated, they became used to humans being around them, but were not hand fed or petted. Yet even though the others were still approached with caution they were considered more tame in nature.


There are many different facilities where animals are held in captivity, many of which, like Emdoneni Lodge, are designed to aid the animals, whether through rehabilitation or breeding programs, however, at what cost?  We need to stop and think about the effect we are having on the animals, if we were stuck in a single enclosure for the rest of our lives, how would we both mentally and physically change? I’m not saying, let’s release every animal in captivity, I’m simply saying to take a minute and reevaluate the effects of certain conditions. For more on the different types and conditions of animal captivity see my next blog: Life Behind Bars: Prison or Sanctuary?


About kirstyleemcnamara

I am currently in my third year at Deakin University, studying Zoology and Animal Science. I spent 3 weeks volunteering in South Africa.

4 comments on “Born to be Wild?

  1. alknorris
    April 15, 2016

    Hey there! Your first sentence totally hooked me in- very engaging! I really like this blog post. I especially like how you have put so many real life situations and examples; it really puts it all into perspective!
    It is such an interesting topic, usually you’d believe animals in captivity are just reaping the benefits, but you don’t usually stop to think of how they are changing bit by bit, due to their captive surroundings.
    I also really like the pages you have linked us to- a very interesting read ☺


  2. shenaeryan
    April 20, 2016

    I find your blog post very interesting, as animals are the topic I am most interested in. I am very passionate about this entire issue, and how animals are kept in captivity.

    I personally believe it is very unfair to keep animals in captivity, especially if it is for customer privilege. However, there are some that I believe are for a good cause. Such as the Warrnambool penguins, which are watched over and protected by the maremma dogs. The public is not allowed to access or view these areas, and it is merely for keeping the penguins from becoming extinct.

    You can find information on that at if you haven’t already done so. It is very interesting.

    I was happy to read the program you mentioned about Emdoneni Lodge that takes in injured animals to rehabilitate them. I was unaware of that program, and it’s great to know more exist!

    I really enjoyed your post because most people have no idea the pain and suffering that animals go through when they are held in captivity for the public and business benefit, and I am glad that your blog shows otherwise.


    • kirstyleemcnamara
      April 20, 2016

      Appreciate the feedback, as I said I don’t believe that all animals in captivity are necessarily suffering, but will be influence by the new surroundings. I simply believe that animals shouldn’t be in captivity purely for the enjoyment of tourist, and that if they are in captivity it is because they are in a breeding program or have been injured or suffer an illness that otherwise in the wild might be fatal, or increase their chances of becoming prey.
      There are definitely some amazing programs out there for animals, but there will never be enough, and there are simply so many sides to every story


  3. SamJ
    May 8, 2016

    All my life I have been interested in animals so your topic of choice drew me in. I, like you, believe that we should carefully consider the impacts of confinement on captive animals physical and mental health. If humans are going to keep animals in captivity, such as zoos and the like, preventative measures should be put in place to protect the animals from major damage. .

    I am unsure of my current stance on captive animals, to a degree it does seem quite cruel however i can see some positives as well as many selfish negatives. Captivity can be beneficial in some instances; breeding projects conducted in captivity can help save species from complete extinction.

    Some animals like cats and dogs that have been so domesticated over the years, which is reflected in their genetics, may have less issues with captive living. It is my understanding that animals born in the wild that have not been bred by humans have a ‘wild streak’ within them and cannot be easily tamed. Animals like this should be left alone in their natural environment as moving them may cause severe discomfit and lead to more serious issues like the chimps you have mentioned above.

    Overall I enjoyed this blog post! It seems well researched and had good arguments supported with evidence.

    good job 🙂


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This entry was posted on April 14, 2016 by in Geelong - Friday 3pm.

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