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Children's Nonfiction Animal Welfare

Wild Animals in Captivity

by (author) Rob Laidlaw

Fitzhenry and Whiteside
Initial publish date
Dec 2017
Animal Welfare, Zoos
Recommended Age
8 to 12
Recommended Grade
3 to 6
Recommended Reading age
8 to 12
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2017
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2008
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2008
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Good Zoos! Bad Zoos!!

A large family of elephants ambles all day along a well-remembered route across the hot African savanna. Halfway around the world in a zoo in Alaska, a single female elephant paces back and forth in her cramped, concrete pen. During the sub-arctic winter, she lives alone in a dark barn.

As it plods great distances across the ice in the Canadian Arctic, a polar bear continually sniffs the wind, closing in on a ringed seal. In a zoo in Jakarta, another polar bear lies motionless on the concrete floor of its enclosure, panting in the tropical heat. Its fur has turned green from the algae growing inside its hollow guard hairs.

These scenes are at the heart of Wild Animals in Captivity — a book that focuses on wild animals living in captivity around the world. "Captive animals become stressed when they try to act naturally, but can't," the author writes. "In many zoos, you'll see them pacing, weaving, or sitting motionless. This is the animal's way of telling us that it's bored and unhappy. Wild animals need a rich and varied environment — things to do, space to roam, social groups, families to care for."

This is an eye-opening look at the lives of captive wild animals-at bad zoos, good zoos, and the best wild animal sanctuaries.

About the author

For more than thirty years, Rob Laidlaw has devoted his life to protecting animals. He is the founder of several animal protection organizations, including Zoocheck Canada, a wildlife protection group. His special interest in dogs has led him to visit dog shelters, pounds, and rescue centers in North America, India, Thailand and Japan and several other countries. Rob started a project to bring humane dog control to remote First Nations communities in Canada, was Chief Inspector for a major urban humane society, was Project Manager for World Society for Protection of Animals. Rob resides in Toronto, Ontario.

Rob Laidlaw's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Laidlaw presents a passionate, well-written, and well-researched argument against the practices of most zoos around the world. . . Despite the careful selection of photos that do not show active torture of animals, the book is heartbreaking. . . This title is likely to be controversial. It does not excuse the practices of our most hallowed zoos, and it criticizes the standards of the U.S. Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The issues raised in this important and powerful book will resonate with young and old."
School Library Journal Starred Review

"Laidlaw effectively captures the plight faced by captive wild animals, even in major, apparently high-quality zoos. In four riveting chapters he explores first the general issues of life in captivity, then addresses specific, often severe, problems. . . This eye-opening look at zoo issues will strike a chord with readers and would be a useful addition to most collections."

"Wild Animals in Captivity is a well-designed, thorough, yet concise depiction of life for animals in captivity. Laidlaw's balanced presentation not only focuses on examples of inhumane treatment of animals in zoos but also gives instances of the best. . . Wild animals in Captivity will most certainly assist children in looking more thoughtfully at the zoos they visit.
Highly Recommended."
CM Magazine

" Laidlaw uses photographs to good effect, and these and the compelling case he makes for his opinions will provide considerable food for thought."
The Globe and Mail

"This children's book by Zoocheck founder Rob Laidlaw is one of the most significant animal books that's been written in a long time."
The Vancouver Humane Society

"What a nicely consciousness-raising book this is to share with kids about to enjoy a day at the zoo."
The Toronto Star

"An honest and powerful book. . . An important book that, through good storytelling and the passionate voice of its author, gives us a window into the world of captive animals."
Children's Book News

"Laidlaw has done an admirable job. Grade school and high school students alike will find this challenging book a remarkable reference."
The Hamilton Spectator

"Illustrated with eye-catching color photography throughout, Wild Animals in Captivity encourages young readers to think long and hard about zoos.
Highly Recommended"
The Midwest Book Review

"Wild Animals in Captivity, proves to be an excellent resource for the next generation of animal welfare supporters. Unlike many books written for a tween or young teen audience, Wild Animals presents information in a factual and interesting way. Readers, both young and old, will appreciate a tone that educates without condescending."
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Newsletter

Librarian Reviews

Wild Animals in Captivity

reviewed from galleys

Did you know that as many as 15,000 pet tigers live in backyards and basements across North America? There are few standards or restrictions on owning wildlife and too many wild animals are captive in small, dirty, unsuitable surroundings. Rob Laidlaw is the director of Zoocheck Canada, a wildlife protection organization. Laidlaw has spent 20 years travelling around the world examining wildlife in captivity and he has come to the conclusion that wild animals belong in the wild and not in zoos. This is an honest and powerful book that takes a hard look at how we keep animals captive and how we can ensure that the animal’s needs come first.

As a child, Laidlaw’s first visit to a zoo was the Riverdale Zoo, a small, Victorianera zoo in the heart of Toronto. He was fascinated by animals but saddened by what he saw there. In his role at Zoocheck Canada, he continues to see animals living captive lives in spaces that bear no relation to their natural environment. He sees animals exhibiting unnatural behaviour when they are forced to live in conditions that are unnatural.

Of course, there is a wide variety of captive environments. Large, publicly owned zoos, such as the Toronto Zoo, are better at meeting the needs of their animals than small, privately-owned roadside zoos. Laidlaw outlines five freedoms that animals need for a sense of well-being, and he gives kids a list of questions to ask when visiting a zoo and looking at the animals. He suggests 10 ways that we can help wild animals in captivity. The final chapter lists a few zoos that are on the right track when it comes to animal welfare.

The director of the Detroit Zoo says, “The zoo is the window into our humanity and how we treat other things in nature.” This is an important book that, through good storytelling and the passionate voice of its author, gives us a window into the world of captive animals. If we are going to keep animals captive at all, we should make it our goal to take care of them in the best way possible. Recommended for school and public libraries.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Summer 2008. Vol.31 No.3.

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