Scientists (and anyone with common sense) have known for a while now that keeping animals in zoos can cause health problems. How could it not? In some cases we’re talking about animals that are used to ranging over miles of land each day, and now they’re confined to a small space with little stimulation.
In fact, there is evidence that being confined to a zoo can fundamentally change the structure of an animal’s brain, leading to depression and other problems. For a more in-depth look at the effect of zoos on animals, give a listen to this episode of the Radiolab podcast.
With all the dangers associated with keeping animals confined, zoos must at the very least provide proper care and inspection of their animals. If they don’t, they end up like the Kiev Zoo.
The zoo at the Ukrainian capitol has come under fire for a staggering number of deaths and disappearances among the animals kept there. The death of Boy, an Indian elephant who collapsed in his pen back in April of 2010, brought attention to the zoo’s standards. Protesters stand outside the gates daily, and animal welfare groups are claiming that dozens, possibly hundreds of animals have died in the zoo due to neglect, malnutrition, and improper health care.
Corruption was to blame at first, as new management stepped in last October and reported that the previous owners had illegally sold animals and misspent funds reserved for food and veterinary care. However, even under the new management, animals are still dying.
The zoo’s new director Oleksiy Tolstoukhov defends his management: “It’s not as bad as they say. In all the zoos, including in Europe, animals don’t live a million years. They also die and get sick.”
But ecologist Volodymyr Boreiko, who has monitored activity at the zoo, claims that nearly 250 animals have died since the new management took over in October of 2010, a number five times greater than the 50 that Boreiko cites. The zoo currently houses 2,600 animals over 84 acres.
Tolstoukhov is unfazed by the criticisms…in fact, the zoo plans to acquire two young female elephants.