Zoos, safari parks, and other exhibits are by all measures unnatural environments for primates, but the quality of care varies greatly from one facility to the next. For example, at least some major metropolitan zoos have the budgets to provide monkeys and apes with large, well-landscaped environments that allow them to live in groups, remain active, and, if they wish, stay hidden from visitors. By contrast, the infamous roadside zoo is tragically still a fixture of the American heartland, its sterile, concrete-and-steel cages offering otherwise social and athletic primates lives of solitude and inactivity. Zoos may one day be only a memory, but for now, at least, shuttering roadside menageries would spare many primates a fate worse than death.
Scientific evidence demonstrates that nonhuman primates are intelligent, sentient, emotionally complex individuals, whose physical, psychological, and social needs are not met when confined for exhibit.
When confined to small exhibits with inadequate stimulation, primates (like other animals) often develop neurotic tics, that many include everything from sitting and swaying endlessly to self-mutilation.
Primates confined to exhibits do not in any way contribute to the survival of their species in the wild, since these captive-born animals are ill-equipped to live in their native habitat.
Zoos encourage breeding, since babies bring paying customers through the gates. But with only so much cage space, adolescent or aging primates are relegated to “surplus” status and pawned off on middlemen who may then sell them into the pet trade or medical research.
There are risks of primates in captivity spreading diseases to humans, which can jeopardize the wellbeing of humans and animals alike. In Great Britain, for example, several safari parks slaughtered hundreds of macaques who tested positive for herpes B—a virus that’s harmless to the monkeys but usually fatal for humans.
The USDA, which is charged with inspecting zoos and other exhibitors, is woefully understaffed; as a result, inspections are infrequent, and licensees typically receive a mere slap on the wrist for keeping primates in substandard conditions.
Circuses and roadside zoos are as out of place in this society as the organ grinder with a monkey on his shoulder who’s tethered by a chain around his neck. No primates—or other animals—should have to endure such miserable fates.