New Born Free USA Report Reveals the Suffering of Giraffe in Zoos


Leading animal welfare and conservation non-profit Born Free USA has today released a groundbreaking report, Confined Giants: The Plight of Giraffe in Zoos, exploring the keeping of giraffe in zoos. These much loved and fascinating animals suffer tremendously when held captive, says the charity, as it calls for the phasing out of their incarceration for display by the zoo industry.

Key findings of the new research are as follows:

  • As the world’s tallest land mammal, the giraffe is a fascinating, well-known, and much-loved species, yet the suffering experienced by giraffe in zoos is rarely acknowledged.
  • As of 2020, there are at least 579 captive giraffe at 103 zoos throughout North America and more than 800 in European zoos, including at least 150 in the U.K. The North American totals are likely even higher, as these numbers do not include giraffe kept in USDA-certified facilities including circuses, animal shows, and non-AZA accredited zoos.
  • Unlike free-living giraffe, who form complex social relationships, many giraffe in zoos are deprived of this opportunity, and in several cases live alone or with just one other individual.
  • Captive giraffe are confined to enclosures that are a tiny fraction (typically less than 1%) of their average wild home range and are all too often bare and simplistic. Because giraffe cannot maintain their body heat in temperatures below 50 degrees, they must be kept inside a heated barn for most of the winter months, thus further reducing their already significantly too-small living spaces.
  • Lameness, trauma, and nutritional diseases are common problems for captive giraffe, alongside behavioral disturbances. Most giraffe in zoos suffer reduced longevity.
  • These complex, social, wide-ranging, browsing animals are not suited to a life in zoos, and the role of zoos in the overall conservation of the species remains highly questionable.

The report follows a similar investigation into the keeping of elephants captive as zoo exhibits, Elephants in Zoos: A Legacy of Shame, which was released in April and similarly found significant welfare and species conservation concerns.

Said Born Free USA CEO, Angela Grimes:

“This new research clearly demonstrates that giraffe suffer when held captive in zoos in the U.S. and beyond. Importantly, behind the data are the real-life experiences of individual animals who should be living free. Confined to tiny, miserable zoo enclosures — sometimes in complete isolation from others of their own kind — it is hardly surprising that giraffe in zoos die young. During their short lives, they experience health issues, nutritional deficiencies, and demonstrate behaviors indicative of extreme stress. And for what? So that crowds of people can stare at them for fun while zoos profit? They deserve so much more. They deserve to live in freedom.”

Born Free USA is calling for a commitment from the zoo industry to work on phasing out the keeping of giraffe and elephants in zoos as a matter of priority, and on the public to direct their concern for species conservation away from zoos.

“Zoos do little to benefit species conservation and much to negatively impact the animals they put on display. Holding animals captive for their lifetimes will not save precious species on the brink of extinction. If we are truly concerned with the preservation of animals and wider ecosystems, we much urgently direct our attention to in situ conservation efforts.”

Read the report and explore the campaign at  

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