“How many more animals are going to be shot dead for the crime of living a life in captivity with irresponsible humans at the helm? [Zoos are]…places where bored living beings are on display behind fences and cement walls, going back and forth along paths beaten down by their own incessant pacing.” – JoAnne McArthur, WeAnimals

The Story

A rare 17 year old gorilla named Harambe was shot dead at The Cincinnati Zoo this past weekend because a four-year old child fell into the exhibit.

This isn’t the first incident of a child falling into a zoo enclosure, and as long as zoos remain in business, it won’t be the last.

Not surprisingly, this absolute tragedy has sparked debate between zoo advocates and animal advocates about the archaic practice of keeping animals in captivity and on display.

One online petition called “Justice for Harambe”  has garnered more than 415,000 signatures as of today.

Zoos are Prison for Animals

Despite their commonly cited benefits, zoos are no home sweet home for the animals.

Even at their best, zoos can never replicate or replace animals’ chosen and natural habitats. Animals are either taken from their home or born into captivity where they are prevented from doing things that are natural to them like running, roaming, flying, climbing, foraging, choosing a mate, raising a family, and being with others of their own species.

RELATED READING: Learn how zoos are prisons for animals by visiting Veganism & Zoos.

A zoo is a business where the babies draw crowds and adult animals are routinely traded, loaned, or sold. The disposal of older (“surplus”) animals is a not-so-well kept secret (and sometimes illegal) industry practice. Animals end can end up at auction, on a hunting ranch, in research laboratories, or dying in a more depraved situation.

There’s a better way.

Family-Friendly Zoo Alternatives

A closeup of a cow in the field kissing a child's outstretched hand.

A child and a cow / Photo: Adobe Stock

1. Visit an animal sanctuary

Animal sanctuaries are veganism’s greatest advocates and the perfect alternative to visiting a zoo. They are a physical space that allows people to “connect with animals” in a way that a zoo cannot replace. Visitors are able to interact with animals in a peaceful and natural setting, allowing a greater understanding of their lives as individuals.

RELATED: Find an Animal Sanctuary Near You

A closeup of a bright green Lesser Marsh Grasshopper sitting on top of a yellow flower.

Lesser Marsh Grasshopper / Photo: Adobe Stock

2. Observe wildlife habitats and learn about local plants, trees, and animals

One of the easiest ways to teach children about animals is to simply walk outside. There is abundant animal life right outside our back doors. Learn about all the different species of animals where you live.

A father enjoying a day in the sunny forest, walking and hiking together.

A father & child hiking / Photo: Adobe Stock

3. Visit local parks and hiking trails

Grab a pair of binoculars and head to the park or trail. Look for different types of animals in the area- make a game out of counting numbers of animals spotted. Learning more about the local animal life not only teaches children about the lives of animals but also how to coexist with them.

Cover for the TV series, Planet Earth, featuring picture of the earth from space.

Cover for the TV series, Planet Earth / Photo: Courtesy of BBC

4. Watch educational documentaries

Programs such as Planet Earth have stunning visuals and excellent commentary for learning and entertainment. Visit the Vegan Movie Library and the Vegan Netflix Guide to find more movies and TV shows with a compassionate message to help teach children kindness.

Girl volunteering at animal shelter.

A child volunteering at a cat shelter / Photo: Adobe Stock

5. Walk dogs or care for other animals at a local shelter

This is hands-on experience with animals who desperately need the TLC, plus children will learn how to give comfort (be kind) to animals.

A group of children sitting on the floor of a library

Children at the library / Photo: Adobe Stock

6. Read and share books with children

There are lots of books to help explain an ethical worldview in a way that children will understand and enjoy. Browse below or visit the Vegan Book Library for the full collection of vegan children’s books.

Making Animals Visible

Chances are you’ve seen the award-winning photography of Jo-Anne McArthur.

Her project, We Animals Media, is a project that documents animals in the human environment using photography. The objective is simple, the project is “dedicated to making visible the lives of animals trapped in the human world.”

The feature photo on this page (Gorilla at Warsaw Zoo, Poland 2012) was obtained from We Animals.

To view more of this project or to support its mission, visit weanimals.org.