Thinning tissues and shrinking blood vessels in the brain, and connections between brain cells becoming less complex – these are just some of the negative impacts that life in captivity can have on wild animals, according to a recently released report by Bob Jacobs, Professor of Neuroscience at Colorado College, USA.
Decades studying the brains of humans, African elephants, humpback whales and other mammals has led Professor Jacobs to the conclusion that the brain’s great sensitivity to the environment means life in captivity can damage the organ’s complex circuitry. And, animals in captivity often display abnormal repetitive, stereotypic behaviour.
Born Free continues to see endless examples of stressed and frustrated behaviour in animals in zoos. This is not a surprise. Arguably, in every zoo, enclosures are designed – first and foremost – to display wild animals to visitors. What is offered to the animals is limited by money, site space, and understanding of the species’ requirements. All too often, zoo enclosures reflect only cosmetic similarities to the richness, diversity, space and challenges animals have evolved to encounter. Food, companions and mates are selected by humans, leaving the animal with almost no control over their environment and life.
Comprehensive evidence for physical changes to the brain of captive animals provides yet more support for Born Free’s conviction that life in zoos inherently and unacceptably compromises the health and welfare of wild animals.
As Professor Jacobs says: “As my own research and work by many other scientists shows, caging large mammals and putting them on display is undeniably cruel from a neural perspective. It causes brain damage.”