Speaking out for captive animals

14 April 2022


Born Free’s Captivity Campaigns Information Coordinator, Sarah Jefferson, reports on some of the problems faced by wild animals in captivity and how we can all help by raising a ‘Red Flag’ and speaking out. 

Three photos of captive animals. Left to right: A dolphin in a small tank; an orangutan wearing human clothes and riding a bike; a solitary elephant in a barren enclosure.

April is ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month’ – a subject close to our hearts at Born Free, as we work tirelessly to stop the exploitation and suffering of individual animals living in captivity or in the wild. In my role as Captivity Campaigns Information Coordinator, I oversee our Raise the Red Flag initiative, which encourages members of the public to speak out when they witness animals suffering in captivity around the world through our online portal. I have seen so many horrendous images of cruelty, but I have also been fortunate to see the life-changing difference we can make for animals when we work together.

On ‘Dolphin Day’ we celebrate these mesmerizing animals, whose wild antics have instilled us with endless fascination over the years. Their love of riding the surf and spontaneous joy of jumping high out of their vast ocean habitats is a sight to behold. In my opinion, wild dolphins are the ultimate symbol of freedom, and they should forever remain free. 

At Born Free we never forget the dolphins held in captivity. Next month, it will have been 10 years since bottlenose dolphins Misha and Tom were rehabilitated and released back to the wild following their rescue from a pitiful pool in Turkey. But shockingly, around 3,000 dolphins are still held in tiny tanks, pools, and pens across the world. Kept for people’s entertainment and amusement. Jumping through hoops and forced into interactive ‘swim-withs’. But these highly sociable and intelligent animals suffer as a result. Just as many countries have now ended, or are planning to end, the use of wild animals in circuses, so must the same victory be reached for captive dolphins.

Of course, it’s not just dolphins that are affected by life in captivity. Sadly, many of the world’s most intelligent species are also the most popular animals that zoo visitors want to see. This includes great apes, such as orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. The closest, living relatives to humans. Yet in captivity, they experience deprived and unnatural living conditions with little to stimulate their complex minds or occupy their time. In some zoos, apes are still the objects of ridicule and humiliation. Their human likeness too tempting to certain individuals and facilities not to be exploited for profit, leading to horrific displays such as orangutans being forced to ride bicycles or dressed in bikinis to be posed with for souvenir photos. Add to this the horrors of baby chimpanzees being captured and trafficked for the exotic pet trade and it’s clear that apes really do need our help.

“Your eyewitness reports, photos, and videos may capture just a few moments in an individual captive animal’s life, but the information you provide to Born Free is so important in helping to expose the problems and bring the suffering to an end.”

And not to be forgotten is one the biggest crowd-pullers of all – the elephant. Although a large proportion of society now questions whether elephants should be kept in zoos at all, an issue even debated among the zoo industry itself, there are still 580 elephants held in European zoos alone, including 49 currently in the UK. Born Free will shortly be releasing in-depth reports examining the plight of elephants in zoos both in Europe and North America. We reveal some shocking statistics and data, as well as bringing to the fore the life stories of individual captive elephants. 

That today we can still treat so many captive animals with such contempt, for our amusement or in the name of conservation, is astounding. Your eyewitness reports, photos, and videos may capture just a few, often upsetting and distressing, moments in an individual captive animal’s life, but the information you provide to Born Free is so important in helping to expose the problems and bring the suffering to an end. 

Please be our extra eyes and ears, and if you witness a captive wild animal that concerns you, whether you’re travelling internationally or holidaying at home this year, please report it and speak out. Visit our Raise the Red Flag online platform to find out more and to make a report.


Images (c) Jo-Anne McArthur / Aaron Gekoski / Born Free