By KD Angle-Traegner, Founder & Editor

“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,

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.

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.

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. 

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

Zoos can be a busy hub of activity, and parents might worry that skipping the zoo means their children are missing out. Not so! There are many alternatives to visiting the zoo that help children connect with and learn more about animals, here are 6 activities to do instead of going to the zoo:


sanctuary animals

Photo: Happy Trails Animal Sanctuary, used with permission

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


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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.


vegan zoo

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.


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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.


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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.


vegan zoo

6. Read and share books with children

The following books help explain an ethical worldview in a way children will understand and enjoy:

  • Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action introduces children to veganism as a lifestyle of compassion and action. This book illustrates how our daily choices ripple out locally and globally, conveying what we can do to protect animals, the environment, and people across the world. Vegan Is Love explores the many opportunities we have to make ethical decisions: refusing products tested on or made from animals; avoiding sea parks, circuses, animal races, and zoos; and more.
  • JJ The American Street Dog and How He Came to Live in Our House is a feel-good childrens’ book with real-world impact, at the heart of this sweet story is a message about companion animals that can teach children and parents alike. JJ Goes To Puppy Class is the second book in the series that teaches children about the complex world of dog training, through their own perspective, and in a simple and easy-to-understand way.
  • Steven the Vegan teaches children how to deal with the ridicule and harassment that can sometimes happen when their friends learn they are vegan; and how to explain why animals are friends, not food.

Bonus vegan cookbooks to get compassionate kids cooking:


Top Photo Credit – Gorilla at Warsaw Zoo, Poland 2012

Chances are you’ve seen the award-winning photography of Jo-Anne McArthur.  Her documentary project, We Animals, is a project that documents animals in the human environment using photography.  The objective, “to photograph our interactions with animals in such a way that the viewer finds new significance in these ordinary, often unnoticed situations of use, abuse, and sharing of spaces.”

The photos on this page were obtained from We Animals.  To view more of this project or to support its mission, visit