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What is Zoochosis?

Repetitive bar biting can be a symptom of zoochosis.
Zookeepers play an active role in a zoo animal's life to help them avoid zoochosis.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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Zoochosis is a term used to refer to a range of psychological problems associated with animals kept in prolonged captivity. This term is most widely used by animal rights activists, who argue for better living conditions in zoos, if not abolishing these facilities entirely. Among zookeepers and conservation professionals, there is a growing awareness of captivity-related psychological problems among animals, and most reputable zoos and conservation parks today have extensive programs in place to enrich the environment of their animals in the hopes of avoiding the onset of such problems.

The word is a portmanteau of “zoo” and “psychosis,” reflecting the fact that some captive animals do indeed become psychotic. More commonly, zoo animals exhibit signs of extreme depression and related psychological conditions as they struggle with the confines of their captivity. Zoochosis can occur in both captive-bred and wild-caught animals, and it appears to be fundamentally rooted in boredom and frustration. The condition is made much worse in zoos with poor living conditions or abusive keepers.

A number of symptoms can suggest that an animal is suffering from a psychological problem. As a general rule, multiple abnormal behaviors in any animal are used as indicators to suggest that the animal is experiencing difficulties, and these behaviors vary, depending on the species. Rocking, swaying, self mutilation, excessive licking, bar biting, pacing, circling, chewing, and neck twisting are all linked with zoochosis, as are abnormal eating habits, such as anorexia.

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There are a variety of ways in which this problem can be addressed. Some animal rights advocates feel that animals should not be kept in captivity, using psychological problems as an argument to encourage zoos and conservation parks to release their animals. This is not always an option, however, as many zoos and conservation parks work with endangered species, and releasing the animals could condemn them to death, either because their native habitat is to damaged or because the animals are not capable of surviving on their own.

Building better habitats is one way to help prevent zoochosis, putting an emphasis on natural environments for zoo animals. Most zoos also enrich their enclosures with toys, puzzles, and learning games to keep their animals active and interested, and some have started creating more natural exhibits with a range of species, allowing animals to interact more naturally. Zookeepers may also engage with their animals directly, playing games with them to stimulate their minds and bodies.

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Discuss this Article

anon971937
Post 15

How ethical is it to destroy the natural habitats of animals and keeping them in captivity for the so-called prevention of extinction?

Shouldn't we focus more on preserving them in their natural habitats, rather than confining their freedom? If animals in zoos are becoming psychotic, why should we promote it? They should be phased out.

anon951827
Post 14

After reading all the posts, I feel that people have made up their minds without considering the consequences. I agree with the last two posts that point out several very important facts.

We as "intelligent" humans have the power to destroy or preserve a species either by over hunting or destroying their habitat. Sometimes the conditions are such that a zoo is the only answer until a more permanent solution can be obtained. I live in a rural community and I sadly watch as big money changes density limits to favor their pocketbooks, and destroy natural environments in the process.

anon306395
Post 9

Did anyone stop to think the writer could be biased? There are many, many zoos with the correct environments for each species and as said above without them and their breeding programmes, many of these animals would be dead in the wild or extinct. Maybe we should focus more of our negativity on people destroying the natural habitats!

anon253975
Post 8

Please research type of work that zoos do for conservation and preservation of animals, especially those that are endangered before you condemn them! They may need some work to better the experiences for animals but without zoos, many animals would be much closer to extinction!

anon251126
Post 7

My school is doing a "bundle" for reading and writing. I am in fifth grade and studying zoochosis. I feel bad for the poor animals and I think zoos should be put to an end. This article helped a lot.

anon238929
Post 6

This article has helped me a lot! My class is studying zoochosis and we have a debate on if we keep zoos or not but now I read this and I'm definitly voting for no.

anon162514
Post 4

This really helped me with my speech on zoos. Thank you! Great article!

anon139448
Post 3

Thank you, this has helped me with my debate on why zoos do more harm than good. I needed to know what zoochosis was, and you described it perfectly.

anon80788
Post 2

A great article, really helped me with my A level studies into zoochosis, thanks.

anon70871
Post 1

yes they are right. zoos should not be around and zoochosis is a form of insanity for animals. Now, rock on, animals. No to zoos.

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