By Jessica Ramos
Feb 20, 2016
Blackfish already made a splash in the animal captivity scene, and now Zoochosis, a short documentary about the very unnatural behaviors that captive animals exhibit in artificial zoo environments, is adding more waves.
Since the whole Marius the Giraffe fiasco, zoos have probably felt been feeling some heat from concerned citizens. This new documentary continues to let zoos know that they are being scrutinized and that activists probably won’t stop until the animal captivity tide turns.
What is Zoochosis?
The documentary didn’t invent the term “zoochosis.” According to the organization Circus Watch WA, “In 1992, Bill Travers first coined the term zoochosis to describe this obsessive, repetitive behaviour, and described zoo animals behaving abnormally as zoochotic.”
Zoochosis can be disturbing to watch. According to Born Free, the following behaviors are symptomatic of zoochosis: pacing and circling, tongue-playing and bar-biting, neck twisting, head-bobbing, weaving and swaying, rocking, overgrooming and self-mutilation, vomiting and regurgitating and coprophilla and caprophagia. Coprophilla and caprophagia relate to unnatural activities involving feces, e.g. eating it, playing with it or smearing feces on walls.
In the film, zoo professionals, science and research professionals and animal welfare professionals all weigh in to paint a complete picture about zoochosis in relation to captivity.
While the scientific community has been talking about zoochosis since the early 1990s, there’s still no consensus about what causes it. Some think that it’s a type of coping mechanism while others believe that it’s a brain dysfunction caused by stress.
Stress is a prevailing theme throughout the documentary. As one science professional explains, everyone has stress. The thing is that while humans can have stress, it usually doesn’t mean that their welfare is in jeopardy, partly because humans can remove themselves from stressful situations and have things to look forward to. For the most part, animals live in the present. If their present is a small caged enclosure, then that is a stressful existence from which they cannot escape. Ultimately, you have to wonder, do all animals experience the stress of captivity the same? According to some points of view in the documentary, they don’t.
Whatever an animal’s stress level, any amount of stress that humans impose on them isn’t right. Let’s say that zoos could create better ways for an animal to cope; that’s great, but coping feels like surviving and just getting by. I’d rather see a captive animal let loose in the wild where they have a fair chance to thrive. Although, as Zoochosis points out, is there a true wild left anymore?
Zoochosis highlights that there are 10,000 zoos in the world and 175 million people visit them every year. While zoos should be more upfront about the abnormal behaviors that their animals are displaying, zoo patrons should also speak out if they see something. Tell the zoo professionals and tell people in your circles. And if you don’t like what zoochosis looks like, or what one conservationist called the “zombie look of zoochosis,” then don’t frequent zoos.
I was fascinated by the suggestion that some animals can thrive in captivity while other animals can’t because it wasn’t something that I had ever thought about that way. Let me know in the poll and comments: do you really think some animals can thrive in captivity?