Laws pertaining to zoo animals exist on international, federal, state, and local levels. They are hard to understand and even harder to enforce. Basically, it’s a case-by-case basis: Not all animals have protection (e.g., in the U.S., under the Animal Welfare Act, the definition of an animal greatly limits the scope of the act as all cold-blooded animals, constituting a great number of the animals housed in zoos, are excluded from protection). It also depends on the time and how they got into that zoo, and if they were bred or not… A very good overview of the laws pertaining to zoos [GK04(1)] highlights the main laws and the myriad of difficulties encountered in the arena of captive animal protection in zoos. They make the point correctly that until the laws are improved, and until there is stricter control and more enforcement, the zoo animals will continue to suffer. But the public has a role to play. By reporting fair mistreatment and abuses and scrutinizing the inner workings of zoos more, we can help the zoos get closer to their mission of educating the public and protecting & conserving species and ecosystems…
Try to engage in discussions with the staff, inquiring about what you see and the reasons why an animal shows stress symptoms or why an enclosure lacks proper provisions. We always encourage discussions, as it is also possible that the behavior was acquired prior to when the zoo got the animal. When it is achievable, having the full story makes for a better report if that report is necessary. Now, it is as important to evaluate the current conditions to ensure that they do not contribute further to animal stress. In short, report bad conditions that you witness to them if you can and to proper institutions otherwise (see below). Note that a lack of funding does not constitute an excuse. If an institution cannot take care of its animals, then it is better for the animal to be reallocated to an organization that can provide good care.
Here are some pieces of information you should try to gather when reporting so as to help those who evaluate your report: Note that you can always report anonymously, although giving a way for them to contact you is better for helping them work on the case.
✓ The name of the institution
✓ The date of your visit(s)
✓ The types of animals in improper welfare conditions
✓ Animals behaviors and other bad welfare indicators
✓ What condition the animals were in
✓ The condition of the facility
✓ The actions of the people with the animals (if there were any)
✓ Take pictures and videos as evidence
[Specific] –checkmark as many as apply
❓ Injury to animal(s)
❓ Injury to zoo personnel
❓ Improper diet
❓ Importation of wild-caught animals
❓ Incompatible social grouping resulting in injury or death
❓ Insufficient veterinary care
❓ Selling, buying, or transferring animals to or from exhibitors, private collections, circuses, exotic animal auctions, canned hunting facilities, or zoos not accredited by the Zoo and Aquarium Association (pertaining to your country)
❓ Unsuitable habitat (i.e., enclosures too small, poorly designed, unsafe, not maintained)
❓ Frivolous spending (funding spent on landscaping, sculptures, amusement rides, etc., instead of providing better care or facilities for animals)
❓ Stereotypic/repetitive behavior (behavioral disturbances, including pacing, head-bobbing, rocking, swaying, bar-biting, pulling out hair or feathers, and self-inflicted wounds)
❓ Inadequate environmental enrichment
❓ Dangerous handling practices that endanger keepers, animals, or the public
❓ Insufficient or untrained staff
One international organization that can help is the reputable and well-known Born Free Foundation, which has been working to prevent captive animal suffering and pushing for policies and regulations to protect animals since the 1980s. Visit their Red Flag Report page. They should be able to dispatch accordingly or help you find the correct venue to report the welfare issue or abuse.
You can also check the PETA reporting site. Many people want to avoid them but know that reputable zoo professionals such as Ron Kagan –the Executive Director of Detroit Zoological Society– see the PETA organization as a partner, not an enemy. And we agree with him: This is the type of attitude that will move our society forward.
If you live in the U.S., you might want to consult the Table of Reporting Animal Cruelty in the United States [WC13].