A lion cub sits in the grass. A lion cub sits in the grass. A lion cub sits in the grass.

Andy Rouse/NaturePL

Should This Lion Cub Be in a Zoo?

A fuzzy lion cub rolls in the high grass. Its mother rests in the shade nearby.

The area might be mistaken for the plains of Africa. Well, except for the kids waving at the animals through a glass wall. You guessed it—these lions are in a zoo.

Zoos have been around for hundreds of years. For a long time, they kept animals in small cages, like the bears in the picture. But in recent years, many zoos have built bigger, more open enclosures.

Zoo supporters say these areas are more like the animals’ natural habitats. But despite improvements, some people are against zoos. They argue that the animals belong in the wild.

Find arguments from each side below.

Zoos teach us about animals

Today, zoos are more popular than ever. More than 185 million people visited U.S. zoos last year. For most people, going to a zoo is their only chance to see wild animals up close. “Most people won’t have the opportunity to travel to Asia or Africa to see orangutans or elephants,” says Rob Vernon. He works for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). This group makes sure zoos treat their animals well.

But zoos aren’t just places to see animals. The best zoos also educate visitors about the dangers wild animals face, like habitat loss and illegal hunting. Also, some of the money zoo visitors spend on tickets goes toward protecting animals. Zoos spend about $230 million a year on animal protection, according to the AZA.

Harold Barkley/Toronto Star via Getty Images

This is a zoo in the early 1970s. How does this cage compare with zoo enclosures today?

Zoos can't compare to the wild.

People who are against zoos argue that even the biggest enclosures aren’t big enough for many animals. Polar bears might walk or swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild. In zoos, they often live in an area about the size of a school gym.

Many animals also need more company. In the wild, elephants live in big family groups. But in zoos, they often live in pairs—or alone. More than 25 U.S. zoos have changed that. They sent their elephants to sanctuaries, where the animals live in large groups. But at other zoos, loneliness is still an issue.

Life in captivity can be hard for large animals. Many show signs of being lonely, bored, and sad.

“When you see a tiger pacing back and forth, that is a very stressed tiger,” says Lori Marino, a scientist who studies animal behavior.

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1. How have zoo enclosures changed in recent years?

2. According to Lori Marino, how does living in captivity affect animals? Include an example

3. What is the purpose of the graph on page 5?

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