Animals in zoos are often on antipsychotics

Zoos just plain drive animals crazy:

In the mid-1990s, Gus, a polar bear in the Central Park Zoo, alarmed visitors by compulsively swimming figure eights in his pool, sometimes for 12 hours a day. He stalked children from his underwater window, prompting zoo staff to put up barriers to keep the frightened children away from his predatory gaze.* Gus’s neuroticism earned him the nickname “the bipolar bear,” a dose of Prozac, and $25,000 worth of behavioral therapy…

Many animals cope with unstimulating or small environments through stereotypic behavior, which, in zoological parlance, is a repetitive behavior that serves no obvious purpose, such as pacing, bar biting, and Gus’ figure-eight swimming. Trichotillomania (repetitive hair plucking) and regurgitation and reingestation (the practice of repetitively vomiting and eating the vomit) are also common in captivity. According to Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, authors of Animals Make Us Human, these behaviors, “almost never occur in the wild.” In captivity, these behaviors are so common that they have a name: “zoochosis,” or psychosis caused by confinement…

Drugs are another common treatment for stereotypic behavior. “At every zoo where I spoke to someone, a psychopharmaceutical had been tried,” Braitman told me. She explained that pharmaceuticals are attractive to zoos because “they are a hell of a lot less expensive than re-doing your $2 million exhibit or getting rid of that problem creature.” But good luck getting some hard numbers on the practice. The AZA and the Smithsonian National Zoo declined to be interviewed for this article, and many zookeepers sign non-disclosure agreements. Braitman also found the industry hushed on this issue, likely because “finding out that the gorillas, badgers, giraffes, belugas, or wallabies on the other side of the glass are taking Valium, Prozac, or antipsychotics to deal with their lives as display animals is not exactly heartwarming news.” We do know, however, that the animal pharmaceutical industry is booming. In 2010, it did almost $6 billion in sales in the United States.

It is like a bored person locked in a room, pacing around the room while waiting to get out.. If you want to see this kind of repetitive behavior in action, here are some short movies illustrating them. Repetitive behaviors are also often seen in people with developmental disabilities, especially autism, where external stimulation is hypothesized to be a motivating reason. Here is a review of some of the neural mechanisms of stereotypy.


2 thoughts on “Animals in zoos are often on antipsychotics

  1. I have worked in European zoos for over 40 years and I only recall one occasion were an animal was proscribed antipsychotics (Valium) for a short period of time. It was being held in temporary holding area. Moreover, the term zoochosis is was a made up word by an animal-rights group some years ago. Its term has no genuine or recognised diagnostic value. This is nonsense and the book cited is partisan and poor researched.

  2. Pingback: Zoos drive animals crazy » General Zoo Discussion

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