February 10, 2016

The World’s 9 Most Depressing Zoos

When zoos (or any institution) exist in flat contradiction to their stated purpose, it’s easy and comfortable to label them as failures. Well, get ready for some failures, people. These nine zoos have been studied and labeled among the world’s worst for reasons running from negligence to spite to greed. Animal lovers: get your guard up and prepare to bite through your lip as we run through the 9 worst zoos in the world.

9. Gikand Zoo – Iraqi Kurdistan

Zoos exist for a number of reasons: To educate the populace about wildlife, to breed and raise endangered animals, and to study the animals in order to preserve their breed. However, it’s widely believed that this zoo existed largely to bow to the wishes of animal smugglers. In Iraq, it has been fashionable among the uber-wealthy to create their own private zoos with exotic animals, and this zoo is notorious for catering to them. Not the legacy most zoos would want.


8. North Korea Zoo

It’s no secret that North Korea thinks it’s the best of everything. But here is one area in which the country falls well short of the mark (aside from the whole human rights and feeding it’s populace thing). The country had hatched a plan to implement a sort of “Noah’s Ark” program in which animals from Zimbabwe would be airlifted to the zoo, but that plan was quickly scrapped after the conditions of the zoo were discovered. Conservationists shot down the idea, as they felt that many of the animals would not survive the 7,000 mile journey, and, even if they did, their life at the zoo would be substantially worse than it would be anywhere else.


7. Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo – China

While this zoo doesn’t suffer from the myriad problems that many others on this list do, one tragedy befell it that makes it an instant candidate for this list. They lost 11, count ‘em, 11 Siberian white tigers. The zoo said disease was the culprit, but auditing officials believe it was simply malnutrition. There meals allegedly consisted of chicken bones, which is probably not all that nutritious. The incident was bad enough that the zoo has been shuttered.


6. San Antonio Zoo – San Antonio Texas

In 2009, the San Antonio zoo was rated the worst zoo for elephants by a group that monitors that sort of thing (In Defense of Animals, specifically). It was the second year in a row that they took home the dubious distinction. An elephant ironically named “Lucky” was kept in a very tiny pen during most of 2008, until later in the year when, rather than rectifying the situation, they added another elephant to the confined space to create a “herd” for marketing purposes. Lame.


5. Dhaka Zoo – Bangladesh

Watching 19 animals die on your watch over the course of 10 months is not exactly a badge of honor among zookeepers. There has to be a reason for such a series of misfortunes (tragedies). The reason for the deaths in Bangladesh is thought to be negligence, pure and simple. It’s widely believed that the staff at this zoo don’t understand what the different types of animals eat, and offer them only what’s on hand. Not much of an excuse for this type of behavior, especially considering a cursory amount of research would do the trick.


4. National Zoo – Washington D.C.

This entry is something of a surprise, being among the most prominent zoos in a first-world nation. However, the whole “too big to fail” adage doesn’t really apply here, as 2010 proved to be as troubling a year for this institution as it was for most every other zoo on this list.

Two red pandas died, and considering how rare they are, that’s a pretty big strike against the zoo. A pack (!) of zebras died of dehydration and starvation, which is pretty ridiculous considering the resources that are put into this place. A giraffe died during surgery, and the life of a pygmy hippo, a bear, two giraffes, a seal, an orangutan, a panda, a lion and a bobcat were also lost. Not exactly the example the USA would like to set, I’m sure.


3. Kiev Zoo – Ukraine

When you lose 38 animals in one year, that’s a bit of a red flag. It’s not like the zoo is huge to begin with, so watching such a big chunk of your animal population die off means that something s being done wrong. Initially, outsiders chalked it up to poor conditions and negligent treatment, but the truth was somehow much worse. It turns out that a worker had been poisoning the animals for no other reason than he was one sick puppy. The man was caught and obviously removed from his station, but the zoo still suffers from its share of problems.


2. Giza Zoo – Egypt

Things got so bad at this zoo in 2004 that it was booted from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Bird flu decimated many of the inhabitant birds, while several of the animals turned up slaughtered in the night by trespassing parties.

To raise funds, the zoo is allowing zoo-goers to play with many of the animals, including bears, lions, and tigers. Oh my. No way that could backfire.

Two of the gorillas also came down with a particularly nasty case of…ebola. That can’t be good for business.


1. Zoo Johor – Malaysia

This might be the worst zoo in the world. This Malaysian monstrosity forces the animals to perform for the patrons, and the animals are kept in tight quarters, but that’s not the most egregious transgression. Their worst act is what they’ve done to poor Shirley, their orangutan.

Shirley is 26 years old and addicted to cigarettes, fighting with her cage-mates for cigarette butts thrown by zoogoers. Pretty sad stuff. The government had given several zoos six months to turn their practices around, but virtually no progress has been made. Cleaning up zoos has proven to be far from a national priority, so it’s unlikely that, without external pressure, things will look up for the animals trapped here.