Zoos are becoming less attractive to customers because the demand for animal performances and exploitation is decreasing, according to the director of the welfare organisation Animal Asia. This is despite the fact that the demand for animal exploitation is exaggerated by those who provide it. 

Zoos are increasingly searching for alternative revenue streams. For example, the Pretoria Zoo hosts public parties, festivals and after-hours events which often feature live music, DJ line-ups and alcohol.

The administrators and advisors of the Pretoria Zoo continue to justify the captivity of elephants for conservation purposes. However, this argument is questionable as there are already large populations of elephants living in natural environments in South Africa. 

Public conservation education is a requirement for membership in professional zoo associations.  However, in recent years, zoos have been criticized for failing to educate the public on conservation issues and related biological concepts.

Background of the development of the Modern Zoo 

Carl Hagenbeck was a prominent animal trader animal and ethnographic showman in the 19th century. He was known for his enormously popular displays of humans, animals and artefacts gathered from all over the world, and he supplied many European zoos with wild exotic animals.  In 1907, he created the first modern zoo: a zoo featuring wild animal enclosures that were designed without any bars. 

The Hagenbeck revolution, as it was known, included enclosures using moats and artfully arranged rock displays to discreetly confine animals. In this manner, Hagenbeck attempted to artfully disguise their captivity and in doing so created the illusion that the animals on display were living in a natural environment.

David Hancocks, a well renowned British zoo director, architect and consultant, envisioned and oversaw the creation of a revolutionary gorilla exhibit in 1976 which featured amongst other, mature trees and an abundance of natural foliage at the Woodland Park Zoo.  David Hancocks has subsequently become an outspoken critic of zoos and similar institutions.  In an interview,  commenting on zoo architecture and enrichment he concluded:   

“The exhibits today may now look more natural, but in terms of animal needs they are typically not much better than the old menagerie cages (which, incidentally, still remain in every detail in many holding facilities and off-exhibit zoo areas). Concrete trees, vegetation that is sealed off by electric wires, acres of fake rockwork that does not feel or act like real rocks in its thermal capacities, substrates that just get packed down harder and harder, are never tilled and become like concrete. A few dead trees perhaps, that are dried up and hard as iron, and just as useless to the animal occupants. More disturbingly, nothing ever changes in these useless zoo spaces. Zoo animals step out into the very same unchanged space every morning day after day after year after year”.

And also: 

“The zoo passion today for ‘enrichment’ is, to me, a public admission of defeat. In a space that gives the animals what they truly require there is no need to litter the place with junk and other distractions. Animals in the wild don’t require ‘enrichment’. They have agency and can choose to interact with the living components of their natural habitats (physical, living and social). They are able to engage the repertoire of behaviours that they evolved for use within their natural habitat and to do so without being artificially enticed to mimic a few aspects of those behaviours by a keeper. 

Animals in the wild do not require a keeper’s stimulation to be active; they have places worth exploring and have their natural, social mix of compatriots, and that is a sufficient stimulus for them to be active. They can dig, fly, run, climb, soar and do all manner of natural things denied to most animals in most zoos”.