Reviews and Endorsements- Wild Animals In Captivity

Global Network, Issue 12 2009 World Society for the Protection of Animals

Rob Laidlaw has produced a thought-provoking book, recommended for ages 8 – 12, that should stimulate his readers to think critically about the purpose of zoos and question the value of keeping wild animals in captivity.

The book seeks to educate readers about the natural behaviour of different species; while it is likely to promote compassion for their welfare, Laidlaw provides a fair and balanced assessment of different captive situations, allowing the reader to be the judge. He questions everything from the educational value of zoos, cage size and design, to the purpose of environmental enrichment programmes.

The author is well respected within the animal protection movement as one of the leading experts on the welfare of captive wildlife; his academic experience on the subject has been greatly enhanced by his observations at more than a thousand zoos around the world. An advocate for the welfare of animals he has studied and researched, Laidlaw co-founded Zoocheck Canada in 1984. Wild Animals in Captivity explains why he felt motivated to take up the cause of captive animals and should inspire every reader to join in his crusade.

Metroland North, March 10, 2009

Reviewed by Glenn Perrett.

Important book for Teachers, Parents, Wild Animals in Captivity

Many teachers take their students on field trips to zoos. Many parents also frequent zoos with their children. The adults like the children in their care to see interesting animals close up. Not only are the children entertained, but their zoo experience is educational too. Correct? The answer is yes, but not in the way you might think. Since animals held captive in many zoos are poorly treated, the lesson learned, for those who look closely at the sad, bored animals, is how our species cruelly treats the other animals with whom we share the planet.

Students need to learn what really occurs in many zoos and then decide if they really want to visit and support these places. Rob Laidlaw in his book Wild Animals In Captivity provides the reader with what occurs at many zoos and why these places don’t provide a positive experience for those who visit them. Relying on his experience of protecting wild animals in captivity for the past 25 years, Laidlaw provides the reader with a glimpse of what occurs in many zoos around the world.

In Wild Animals In Captivity Laidlaw provides information about some of his zoo visits including his first which was to the Riverdale Zoo in Toronto. In making his compelling case about the many negative aspects of zoos, Laidlaw looks at how zoos fail the animals they imprison and what these animals’ lives would be like in the wild. Some of the animals looked at include polar bears, elephants and great apes. Laidlaw compares the lives of these species both in the wild and in zoos.

The types of zoos covered in this informative book include public zoos, wild animal parks, aquariums and marine parks, safari park zoos and roadside zoos. Animals in roadside zoos exist in horrible conditions as described by Laidlaw. “Animals in roadside zoos live in horrible conditions: small, dilapidated cages and enclosures; pens with no shelter from the weather; floors filthy with droppings; nocturnal animals kept in bright light; social animals living alone; inadequate food and water.”

Laidlaw’s description of the plight of a particular animal at a roadside zoo in rural Ontario is a tragic example of what our species does to other animals. “Near the back of the property was a lopsided shed with a screen door hanging loose. Inside was a Hamadryas baboon. She was huddled at the back of a wire cage barely larger than a closet. The baboon was holding a dirty piece of apple, and when I spoke to her, she dropped it and shuffled towards me. She reached her hand through the wire and grasped my fingers. I looked at her closely and realized she was blind.

“I reported the baboon’s terrible living conditions to the humane society. When I returned to the zoo, she was gone, and I never found out what happened to her.”

While there are lots of examples in the book of captive animals suffering horrible “lives,” there are also some positive examples of animals whose lives have been greatly improved including Keiko, the famous orca who was captured and imprisoned for close to two decades before being set free. There is also the story of Wanda and Winka, two Asian elephants, whose lives were made better when they were moved to a wildlife sanctuary in California.

Sections on “Checking Up on Zoos” and “10 Ways to Help Wild Animals in Captivity” provide the reader with ways to improve the lives of wild animals kept in captivity.

Whether you are a teacher considering a field trip to a zoo or a parent thinking about entertaining your children by visiting a zoo, you should read Wild Animals In Captivity first.

Wild Animals In Captivity provides a side of the story to those interesting animals held captive in zoos that children often don’t see – and aren’t told about. This book is an important resource for teachers, parents and other educators who teach children about animals and the environment.

If you want to learn more about helping wild animals in captivity you can visit Zoocheck Canada at

RELEASE – News from the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (Winter 2008)

Reviewed by Craig Redmond, Captive Animals’ Protection Society.

Search for books on zoos and primarily you will find ones for young children which promote them as a fun day out, autobiographies of zookeepers and vets or scholarly volumes about captive animal management and environmental enrichment. Those books critical of zoos are usually of an academic nature, discussing animal ethics and conservation.

With zoos’ main target audience being young people, there is a surprising lack of books aimed at this age group which explain the reality of zoos: the suffering of animals and the conservation con of captivity. Finally, such a book exists.

Rob Laidlaw is well known and highly respected in the animal protection movement. A biologist who has spent the past 25 years campaigning to protect wild animals in captivity, Rob is a founder of Zoocheck Canada, an organisation CAPS co-operates with on issues such as zoos and circuses.

Aimed at 8 – 12 year-olds (but certainly appropriate for an older audience too), Wild Animals In Captivity is well laid out and thoroughly illustrated with photos that have great impact without being overly shocking. Discussing different types of zoos, animal behavioural problems and conservation, it looks in detail at specific species such as polar bears, elephants, great apes, dolphins and whales, focussing on why these species do particularly badly in captivity.

It is great to see a book aimed at this age group that challenges the whole concept of zoos. In addition, the examples are not all based in one country – Rob has travelled extensively in his work and there are case studies from Canada, North and South America, Europe and Asia, giving the book a wider audience geographically than one that focussed on the author’s own country. Most of the stories are personal ones, which definitely helps the reader appreciate the feelings of the animals.

If I had to name one downside of the book it’s that it does not take a 100% ‘anti-zoo’ stance. In the chapter ‘The future of zoos’, some zoos are applauded for their efforts to provide a more ‘natural’ environment for animals and for their captive breeding efforts. “A handful of progressive zoos” are described as “good models for the future.” Whilst no-one would oppose attempts to make the lives of the inmates more bearable, I would suggest that there should be no future for zoos – that, for the sake of animals and conservation, no more zoos should be built and current ones phased out. However, this distracts little from the overall theme of the book.

This is an important book on an important subject and is highly recommended – buy it for a relative and your kid’s school library. Ask your local public library to get a copy too. It deserves to be read by as many people as possible and should be on the reading list for students discussing the ethical and conservation aspects of zoos.

Even if its readers still visit a zoo afterwards, they will be armed with a checklist of things to look for and ideas on how they can help animals.

This is certainly a book that CAPS will be recommending to students, teachers and the general public.

Animal Welfare in Focus, Fall/Winter 2008 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies

Rob Laidlaw is a founder of Zoocheck Canada and a long-time campaigner for the protection of wildlife. His newest book, 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.

Laidlaw writes in the introduction that his goal is that readers of Wild Animals will “start asking questions” the next time they visit a zoo. He accomplishes this goal by providing young readers with the facts necessary to make informed judgements as to the condition and care of the animals they see; among these are signs that the animals are suffering and a list of ways animal welfare supporters of all ages can help change the poor conditions under which many animals must live when in captivity. His advice is practical and his examples frequently juxtapose negative conditions with positive ones, illustrating both what to look out for and what to aim toward.

Electic Book Reader Blog, October 8, 2008

I read this recently as part of my job and I must say that it was really quite interesting. It’s a quick read with lots of good pictures (some cute, some heartbreaking) and I feel that I did learn quite a bit reading it.

Wild Animals is written with a young (tween to early teen) audience in mind. Unlike most reference book authors for that age bracket, Laidlaw never comes off as condescending and certainly never minimizes the role children have to play in animal welfare. Quite the opposite, he challenges young readers to examine zoos for themselves and determine whether they are animal-friendly or not. If not, he provides a list of steps even the youngest animal welfare advocate can take to fix the situation, which includes such “grown-up” things as writing to their local newspapers.

I think my favourite part of the book comes near the end where he juxtaposes good conditions with bad ones. Rather than just say that zoos are bad or complain about everything that can go wrong, he actually cites examples where zoos (or parks) have had the right idea and improved conditions.

Because the book avoids talking down to the reader, it is certainly appropriate for adults. I recommend it for anyone, of any age, with a budding interest in animal welfare issues.

OhmyNews International, October 1, 2008

Review by Kaori Bell.

Around the world, there are about 10,000 zoos. If all kinds of zoos such as roadside zoos were counted, the number might be three times higher. This would mean that countless number of animals are in cages for our education, entertainment, whatever purpose there exists.

I visited one of the animals last month. She is said the oldest elephant in Japan and was celebrated for her 60th birthday, since 60 years has a special meaning for the Japanese. At first glance, I was so shocked to see her in an amazingly small enclosure. She kept pushing her head on the wall of the concrete enclosure, while visitors were watching her. The zoo said she was taken to the zoo about 50 years ago and has spent her entire life there alone since then.

It is well known that elephants are highly social, living in relatively stable matriarchal family groups in the wild. Young elephants will remain with their mothers and extended family group well into their teenage years.

I remembered that a director of Zoocheck Canada, Rob Laidlaw published his latest book when I came home. I ordered it – “Wild Animals in Captivity” on Amazon and few days later I found this is the best book for everyone who is concerned about animals in captivity. Because it is written for young children, [the] English is very easy to understand and we can also enjoy many great photos although some of them are depressing.

On the page of “Goodnight, Yupi” we see a tiny white head of a polar bear behind rusty bars and can even feel her breath with the author, who felt angry at all zoos that put animals into small, barren cages.

This book is, however, not a simple anti-zoo book. He also introduces some best zoos as future models. I hope the next generation will read this great book and think what kind of world they would like to produce.

Greenmuze, September 12, 2008

In a zoo in Indonesia, two polar bears lay on a concrete floor trying to stay cool in the tropical heat. At the Alaska Zoo, an elephant named Maggie was confined to a 146 square meter (1600-square foot) barn during the winter. In a Canadian zoo’s $6 million dollar African complex an African Silverback sits among concrete trees and painted on murals. Author Rob Laidlaw writes that when visiting other zoos, great apes were living in exhibits that were less costly but more natural, with real trees, tall grasses and larger spaces. When you visit a zoo, do you ever wonder what it might be like for animals that live day after day in the same small enclosures?

Wild Animals in Captivity, a young adult title, makes a comparison between wild and natural animal settings and a series of poignant photos to ask us to consider what is best for the animal rather than what is best for the people who frequent the zoos.

Wild Animals in Captivity explains that nearly every zoo keeps animals in exhibits that are far smaller than what the animals actually need. A study of elephant areas in British zoos found most were 1000 times smaller than their natural habitats. Wild polar bears sometimes travel 50-100 kilometres a day hunting for seals, but zoos confine them in spaces that are more than a million times smaller than their Arctic territory. Aside from inadequate space, most zoos neglect to provide places for animals to hide and rest, or provide necessary stimuli and opportunities to bond and interact with their own species.

A beautifully presented book for a younger audience that will gently help them to engage in the discussion of whether or not wild animals should be kept in captivity.

Wild Animals in Captivity helps us to understand not all zoos are created equally. And even though there are numerous zoos that are not adequately meeting animals’ needs, there are examples of progressive zoos that are able to provide ‘…a pleasant life for animals in a natural setting…’. Some examples include the Arizona-Sonara Desert Museum, Jersey Zoo, The China Bear Rescue Center and The Elephant Sanctuary.

A beautifully presented book for a younger audience that will gently help them to engage in the discussion of whether or not wild animals should be kept in captivity. School libraries would greatly benefit from the addition of Wild Animals in Captivity.

Midwest Book Review, Children’s BookWatch, September 9, 2008

Written for young people ages 8-12, Wild Animals in Captivity is an educational children’s picturebook about what the lives of animals in captivity are really like. Author and founder of the wildlife protection organization Zoocheck Canada explains how to tell the difference between zoos that confine wild animals in dismal conditions unlike their real habitat, and progressive zoos that treat captive wild animals with compassion and respect. Illustrated with eye-catching color photography throughout, Wild Animals in Captivity encourages young readers to think long and hard about zoos, and closes with ten ways to help captive wild animals such as “Support wildlife sanctuaries that provide permanent homes for retired or neglected animals. Research the facility first because some places just call themselves sanctuaries. Real sanctuaries care for animals for the rest of their lives.”

Highly recommended.

Born Free USA Blog, August 27 2008

Review by Barry Kent MacKay, Senior Program Associate.

There is a new book about zoos and zoo animals that I highly recommend for all younger readers. The reason I do so is simple: it gives the best answer I have seen to the simple question I’m frequently asked. People want to know what I, as both a naturalist and animal protectionist, think of zoos. Rob Laidlaw has provided an easily understood reply in his brand new book, Wild Animals in Captivity, just published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside (ISBN 978-1-55455-925-8), and available for $19.95.

First a disclaimer: Rob is a good friend and colleague, and founder of Zoocheck Canada, where I am a director. But he is a good friend precisely because of his dedication to the protection of animals, and because of his balanced and pragmatic approach to the complex issues society presents. We both want to establish the rights of animals to live their lives in the absence of the abuses we impose upon them, often with specious rationales given as justification.

Yes, zoos are a fact of life, and if one simply says they should, or should not, exist, there is no benefit to the animal victims of zoos, nor the possibility of benefits to either individual animals, or species, in captivity.

What Rob has done, is very simply and factually describe the needs of animals, and what they experience in captivity, comparing their lives to those in the wild. He helps the young reader to see beyond the illusions zoos so often try to create, and how to judge zoo conditions from the perspective of the animals, and their needs and interests. And he does so by describing actual animal, actual situations, many heartbreakingly sad, such as the story of Keiko, the orca of Free Willy fame, who touched the hearts of thousands of youngsters around the world, or Wanda and Winky, so long and so sadly imprisoned in the Detroit Zoo.

He does not talk down to his readers, but rather takes them by the hand and lets them share some of his experiences from literally thousands of zoo visits around the world over decades of investigative work and associations with top authorities. He gives credit to those all too few situations where, if animals are held captive, they are kept for reasons that are in their own interests, or at least in the genuine interests of the species’ survival. The sad fact is that most zoos claim to be necessary for conservation, or education, or promoting interest in animals, but in fact exist to entertain humans unaware or uncaring about the animals’ interests, or simply to earn profits.

Not only does the book provide a checklist of commonplace abuses kids can discover in zoos for themselves, but he empowers them with a realistic list of ten ways children can help wild animals in captivity.

Hamilton Spectator, August 16, 2008

Reviewed by Gary Curtis.

Wild Animals in Captivity is a book that asks provocative but necessary questions: How should animals be kept in captivity, and are there animals that should not be kept in zoos at all?

Author Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck Canada, has travelled the world, studying how man captures and exploits wild animals, and puts them to work as zoo displays with little or no thought to their welfare and well-being.

He opens with his childhood observations of the Riverdale Zoo in Toronto (on the western flank of the lower Don Valley Parkway, which I saw in the early 1970s), which opened in the early 1890s. It was small, dank and unfriendly, with scant regard given to what the animals needed in order to lead stimulating, engaged lives. It was that scene that put him on his career path as a respected biologist and animal-rights activist.

He gives all manner of examples of animals being kept in captivity in ways that are thoughtless and cruel.

This important work’s most poignant chapter gives examples of how four species live in the wild — polar bears, elephants, whales (using Keiko, the star of the Free Willy movies, as an example) and gorillas — and how zoos treat them.

Here’s the scene Laidlaw paints of elephants in the wild: They are social creatures, living in families, with grandparents, parents, siblings, all following their matriarch. Calves play and frolic, watched closely by their mothers. They find a waterhole and stop for a bath and chat. At a signal from the lead female, they’ll tromp off noisily, full of trumpeting and braying, for a trek to their preferred feeding ground. The next day, they’ll be 30 kilometres away, foraging in a different part of their range.

In captivity: An orphaned elephant, Maggie, is kept alone in a small outdoor pen of hard, compacted dirt with a shallow pond. In the winter she stands in a small, unheated barn. She becomes lethargic and sinks to her side. It takes a tow truck and 19 hours to get her upright. She’s sick with infection, overweight and unhappy.

In which scenario do you think elephants should be kept? Laidlaw presents a compelling argument that elephants are among the species that should never be kept in zoos.

There are all sorts of special features in Wild Animals in Captivity, and Laidlaw has done an admirable job. Grade school and high school students alike will find this challenging book a remarkable reference, and it should find a place in libraries and classrooms.

Toronto Star, August 3, 2008

Reviewed by Deidre Baker.

Eamer’s stroll through the creatures of past epochs, periods, eras and eons should show its readers that as humans, we share the world with other living things. Rob Laidlaw’s Wild Animals in Captivity (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 48 pages, $21.95, ages 8 to 12) stresses that same understanding, but from a perspective very much in the present. An activist and inspector of caged animal conditions for decades, Laidlaw brings much passion and a quick, compelling voice to this examination of humans, animals and zoos.

Laidlaw stresses the difference between natural behaviour in the animal world and the unnatural behaviour we often observe in caged animals – such as rocking, pacing and even forms of self-mutilation. He describes how impossible it is for zoos, even the most innovative, to provide creatures such as polar bears, dolphins, elephants and apes with “cages” that allow them the space and habitat they need to live healthy lives.

He describes different kinds of zoos, from wildlife conservation areas and sanctuaries to the most sordid of roadside peepshows, and concludes with a chapter on success stories of animals returned to a wild habitat or protected habitat.

What a nicely consciousness-raising book this is to share with kids about to enjoy a day at the zoo. Laidlaw lists 10 critical questions they can ask about the animals they observe and the cages around them. He lists a number of organizations and ideas for young wildlife activists.

Still, he leaves his readers with unanswered questions. Why did zoos develop and how are they related to the science of zoology? Are animals really “in control” of their lives? Is it “better” for an animal to live a long life in captivity or a short one in its natural habitat? What about pets? (There are apparently thousands of tigers kept as pets in North America.)

Some of the most invigorating questions we might have about the purpose and enjoyment of life underlie the information Laidlaw provides.

Globe and Mail, July 19, 2008

Reviewed by Susan Perren.

The founder of the wildlife protection organization Zoocheck Canada, biologist Rob Laidlaw has much to say on the subject of elephants, polar bears, orcas and great apes, among other wildlife living in captivity, and much of what he has to say is damning. Simply put, his opinion after 20 years of investigating zoos, of studies and campaigns, is: “It’s best to keep wildlife in the wild and … most zoos should close.”

The problem, as he sees it, is that the interests of almost all animals in zoos are secondary to those who come to view them. Despite attempts to naturalize the habitat of animals, fish and birds in zoos, those habitats, even the best of them, are prisons in which captive species suffer from a lack of stimulation and room to roam, and often inappropriate climate – conditions that lead to neuroses, illness and early death.

He doesn’t buy the notion that the vaunted captive breeding undertaken by numerous zoos is an effective or useful conservation tool; most animals bred in this way are used for zoo displays and result in too many babies of the same species, most of species already well-represented in captivity, for whom it is difficult to find permanent homes. Many of these animals end up in the hands of animal dealers or in the pet trade.

Laidlaw uses photographs to good effect, and these and the compelling case he makes for his opinions will provide considerable food for thought. Additionally, he suggests ways his readers can become part of the solution rather than the problem, with such sections as Checking Up on Zoos and 10 Ways to Help Wild Animals in Captivity, and a listing of animal welfare organizations with their websites.

Kirkus Book Reviews July 1, 2008

A caged lion pacing back and forth on a worn path and dolphins swimming in unending circles are captive animals exhibiting “stereotypies,” or repetitive abnormal behaviors. These disturbing behaviors are a common sight in many zoos. 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 faced by polar bears, elephants, dolphins and Great Apes. He goes on to discuss types of zoos and their particular flaws, then concludes with advice for readers on objective evaluation of the zoos they visit and offers a list of ten ways to help animals in captivity. Ample white space on each page and numerous, well-placed color photographs add to the readability; fact boxes on many pages provide additional details. This eye-opening look at zoo issues will strike a chord with readers and would be a useful addition to most collections. (glossary, index, list of animal-welfare organizations) (Nonfiction. 9 & up)

ANIMAL Writes, Vol 41, Summer 2008 – Vancouver Humane Society

Reviewed by Deborah Probert.

I probably shouldn’t be writing this – I’m seriously biased on so many levels. Rob Laidlaw is an old friend and mentor, as well as being, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable and articulate person in Canada, perhaps in North America, on captive wildlife.

In addition, having worked on captive animal issues for many years, our values are aligned. I agree with Laidlaw when he states, “More than 20 years of zoo investigations, studies and campaigns have convinced me that it’s best to keep wildlife in the wild and that most zoos should close.”

Wild Animals in Captivity is a thoughtful, provocative, but more importantly, intelligent look at why zoos are bad for animals. Because it’s non-fiction aimed at 9 – 12-year-olds, but appropriate for a much older audience, it’s also one of the most significant books that’s been written in a long time.

Laidlaw cites, in honest yet sensitive language, specific examples of animals he has observed in zoos, and how their lives differ from their counterparts in the wild. He explains the differences and what they can mean to the animals – making common sense the only pre-requisite to understanding.

Using elephants as a compelling example, he describes a family group of females and babies foraging, bathing, frolicking and eating on a journey of approximately 30 kilometres. He then tells the story of Maggie, the African elephant who languished in the Alaska Zoo for nearly 25 years. Her barren existence is stark in comparison. He doesn’t ignore the less charismatic species. “Two Brown Lizards” evokes empathy for small, scaly animals whose lives are equally affected by their environment. Lastly, and definitely not least for a children’s book, visually the book is, simply put, beautifully set up. The photographs are stunning and support the text with clarity and simplicity.

I grew up in Calgary, Alberta. As a child, an outing with my family was often a trip to the Calgary Zoo. Perhaps if I had access to such a book, I would have spoken up about the nagging feeling that accompanied me with each trip, a feeling that something was amiss. Instead, I kept silent for far too long.

Zoos have been marketing themselves to children with impunity for long enough. Teachers and parents should arm every single child with this book before they visit a zoo or aquarium. Dare we hope that this is only the first in a series?

School Library Journal Reviews July 2008 (* Starred Review)

Reviewed by Ellen Heath, Easton Area Public Library, Easton, PA.

Laidlaw presents a passionate, well-written, and well-researched argument against the practices of most zoos around the world. He describes the damage done when animals are unnaturally confined and moved to inhospitable climates, and compares the wild and captive lives of polar bears, orcas, elephants, and great apes–the four species most harmed by captivity. The author looks at various types of confinements, from roadside zoos to wild-animal parks to large public zoos, and gives readers several sets of questions and checklists for evaluating the fair treatment of animals in zoos that they visit. In the end, Laidlaw advocates replacing zoos with wildlife sanctuaries and conservation centers, in which the needs of animals are placed before the entertainment and edification of human visitors. This is not a balanced report. Laidlaw clearly hopes to raise the consciousness of a generation. Despite the careful selection of photos that do not show active torture of animals, the book is heartbreaking. Sensitive children will be deeply disturbed as they read of the electric shocks that animals receive if they touch the real trees in “natural” exhibit areas and the fate of overbred lions and tigers. 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.

Canadian Review of Materials – Volume XIV Number 21 – June 13, 2008

Excerpt: What does living in captivity mean? For fish, birds, dolphins, gorillas, and other wild animals living in zoos, it means a life that is completely dependent on people. Zoo owners, zoo directors, and zookeepers decide what kind of exhibit the animals live in; how deep they can swim, how high they can fly, or how far they can walk; what and when they eat; which companions or mates they have. Decisions are often based on how much space zoos have and which species attract the most visitors – not on the animals’ needs. When that happens, wild animals suffer from living in captivity. For a better life, they require the kinds of natural and complex experiences all animals encounter in the wild.

Laidlaw says that, from an early age, he has identified with the plight of wild animals living in barren and unstimulating zoos. In Wild Animals in Captivity, his eloquent writing enlightens children without being didactic. The technique of juxtaposing how a particular animal lives in a zoo with how it would spend a day in a natural setting is very informative. For example, he contrasts the life of a polar bear in an Indonesian zoo with that of one living in the Arctic. Laidlaw describes the lone polar bear patiently stalking and catching a seal in the cold north. In captivity, the bear, with green algae dyed fur, paces back and forth seeking relief from the heat. Readers can make up their own minds as to which environment is the most beneficial.

The two page “Introduction” outlines Laidlaw’s interest in wildlife from his childhood memories of visits to zoos to his present position as director of Zoocheck Canada. He states: “I visit all sorts of zoos. part of my job is to convince governments to pass better laws to regulate zoos and improve the lives of captive wild animals. Another part involves challenging out-dated and cruel zoo practices and the keeping of wildlife in captivity.

The four chapters are: Living in Captivity, Challenging Animals, Around the Zoo World, and An Elephant Step in the Right Direction. In Chapter 1, Living in Captivity, there are a number of sections: Two Brown Lizards, Captive Lives, Acting Naturally and Unnatural Behavior, Room to Roam, Places to Hide, Something to Do, and Five Freedoms. Sidebars include such topics as Animal Furniture. In other chapters, sidebars give details about the home, size, adaptations, family life and conversation status of various animals under Natural Facts. Included are polar bears, Asian elephants, orcas, and gorillas. Other sidebars detail information about arthritis and foot rot, conditions common to elephants in captivity, the capturing of orcas, and an explanation of the difference between wildlife sanctuaries and conservation centres.

The book is well-designed. Text and captioned pictures of varying sizes are placed attractively on pages with sufficient white space. Chapter numbers and names are rendered in attractive colours while the headings and subheadings are black. In addition, the print size and format add to the uncluttered appearance making it appealing to young readers. Laidlaw also includes a list of 10 ways to help wild animals in captivity. Furthermore, the inclusion of a list of Animal Welfare Organizations, Glossary, and Index extend the usefulness of the book.

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. He concludes:

Captive wild animals should live in as large a space as possible, with lots of room to explore and act naturally, soft soil under their feet, and private places to escape from people and other animals. But they need much more. If any of their physical or behavioral needs are not met, they may be suffering and need our help. He then asks the key question: “Should these animals be here at all?”

Wild Animals in Captivity will most certainly assist children in looking more thoughtfully at the zoos they visit.

Highly Recommended.

Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005. She is now working as an independent children’s literature consultant with a web site at


Rob Laidlaw has been working tirelessly on behalf of animals in zoos ever since I first met him many years ago. This well written book, with its carefully chosen examples and photographs, is a fair assessment of what is bad, better and best for animals in this world of captivity. It will help you to judge for yourself whether or not the conditions are suitable so that, when necessary, you can speak out on behalf of some unhappy animal prisoner. -Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace

Rob Laidlaw writes about what every young person, with their natural empathy, instinctively feels—that animals suffer horribly in zoos and, even with our best efforts, we cannot alleviate that misery or justify their incarceration. Dramatically and powerfully presented with stark comparisons between animals’ natural lives and often-heartbreaking cases of individual animals in zoos (few people will be able to quickly forget Yupi the polar bear), this book will set kids on the path to compassion and advocacy. –Ingrid Newkirk, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

[This] is a very important book. Rob Laidlaw presents a balanced view of life in captivity for sentient beings who would rather be free. Just like humans, animals have a point of view and preferences for what happens to them. Much of the time what humans call “good welfare” isn’t good enough—we can always do better for zoo residents and other animals. One way to make the world a more compassionate and less cruel place is to teach children well. And this is exactly what this book does. Children are ambassadors for the future, and keeping their hopes and dreams for a better world alive will translate into increasing our compassion footprint. I will share this book widely in my work with Roots & Shoots ( groups around the world. –Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado; co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethnologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, authors of The Ten Trusts; Author, The Emotional Lives of Animals; Animals Matter; and Animals at Play: Rules of the Game

This little book is deceptively powerful. It asks young people to look objectively at what they see in zoos, and to think about what zoo animals need and want. Laidlaw cuts through the marketing doublespeak of many modern zoos, and in plain language he asks questions that need to be considered not only by a new generation, but also by zoos themselves. –David Hancocks, Author, A Different Nature: The Paradoxical World of Zoos and Their Uncertain Future; Former Director, Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Open Range Zoo (Weribee, Australia)

This is the best book I have ever read about zoos for children. I can think of nothing more educational than giving this book to every child before visiting a zoo… A must for every parent or teacher who wants their children to learn the truth about zoos. …and the author does not condescend or talk down either to you or to your kids. One of the best books on animals EVER!” –Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Author, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals; Dogs Never Lie About Love: Reflections on the Emotional World of Dogs; and The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional Lives of Farm Animals

At last—a book for young people about animals that tells it like it is. With stark common sense, Laidlaw lays out the evidence that wildlife belongs in the wild. Whitewashing captivity has been the norm for too long—we now know too much to continue to ignore the suffering of the complex animals we incarcerate. The zoo community won’t like this book, but with the scientific and experiential substantiation, it won’t be able to deny its legitimate place in the genre. –Debra Probert, Executive Director, Vancouver Humane Society

As today’s children move toward becoming tomorrow’s citizens, it is our responsibility to shape them into kind, understanding, responsible individuals who will in turn shape the nation that they will inherit. It is not very often that a children’s book comes along to further such a noble cause. As you will see, this is that book. Teaching youth empathy for animals is the first step in teaching them empathy for everyone. Study after study has demonstrated that educating children to value, protect, and extend justice and mercy to any others helps make them more sensitive to the feelings of all others. Children can change the world. Putting them on the path to becoming enlightened adults can start with reading this book. –Auradha Sawhney, Chief Functionary, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India

It is time for a new generation to take a critical look at zoos. Had the young people of Anchorage heard Laidlaw’s ideas, they might have asked key questions about the role of their own zoo, and Maggie the elephant’s suffering could have ended much sooner. An irresistible read for all ages! –Friends of Maggie, Anchorage, Alaska

Most kids love to visit zoos and enjoy seeing animals. This book takes such visits to another level by giving children, their parents, and teachers the ability to assess zoos and the well-being of the animals they house. With a balanced, fair approach, the text explains what happens to so many of the cute baby animals we see in zoos; whether or not endangered species are being protected; whether or not the animals are hurt or helped by their experiences; and how zoos can help or hurt individual animals in their care. There is nothing else like it; [this book] should be read by all kids and adults planning a trip to the zoo. –Barry Kent MacKay, Ornithological Artist; Naturalist; Author; Senior Program Associate, Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute

We loved [this book] and will be providing students who contact us with a copy of it. The book provides a stark contrast between the richly diverse life experienced by animals in the wild and the impoverished lives of most animals in captivity. Their stories were compelling and heartbreaking. This is a wonderful read for children and adults alike and provides a great opportunity for readers to become involved in resolving captive animal issues. –Liz White, Director, Animal Alliance of Canada

With the natural world fast disappearing, [this book] offers a timely and very important look at why, where, and how we need to change our treatment of wild animals. It aims to help youngsters understand what life is like for wild animals in zoos, including showing readers how to see for themselves. Laidlaw offers a fair, balanced assessment that is easy to read and engagingly illustrated with real stories and pictures. For anyone planning a zoo visit, old or young, I’d put Wild Animals in Captivity on their must-read list. –Anne E. Russon PhD, Author, Orangutans, Wizards of the Rainforest and Reaching into Thought: The Minds of the Great Apes

Rob Laidlaw’s book is certainly an inspiring work that spells out to a younger audience many of the key issues of the so-called zoo debate in an easy and non-patronizing way… For those young readers new to the debate, the comparisons between the lives in the wild and in captivity will be particularly useful, especially because they are not hypothetical, but based on real cases. Educators who may consider introducing this book to their students will also find balance in statements that do not fall into an artificial amoral neutrality nor avoid qualifying as “not good enough” some of the so-called improvements that zoos often chose after having been pressured and challenged… I have inspected many zoological collections in the world and I have gone through the same thought processes and conclusions as the author. I wish I had had a book like this when I was younger. It would have taken me where I wanted to go much faster, and I would have started to protect animals much sooner. –Jordi Casamitjana, Consultant Zoologist, Animal Protectionist, United Kingdom

‘Wild Animals in Captivity’ is a great book that not only explains the problems of keeping wild animals in captivity in an easy to understand and entertaining way, it also provides ways for the reader to make a difference and help the animals themselves. -Dave Eastham, Head of Wildlife, World Society for the Protection of Animals

Having visited hundreds of zoos around the world, Rob Laidlaw knows what he’s talking about. Here he shows us, with photographs and plain-speaking prose, what the glossy color brochures don’t: that life behind bars is rarely acceptable, and mostly miserable. -Jonathan Balcombe, PhD, Author: Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good

Children have a natural affinity for both animals and the truth. By talking about the lives of captive animals in a way that is as honest as itis affecting, Rob Laidlaw dignifies the intelligence and curiosity of his young readers. Any child who enters this book will emerge from it enormously enriched. -Barbara Gowdy, Author, The White Bone, Falling Angels, Helpless, The Romantic

If a wiser and healthier attitude toward captive animals is to be achieved in our traditionally cruel society it must begin with the education of the inquisitive and questioning minds of our youth. Now is the time to begin. And Wild Animals in Captivity is the book to begin it with. Rob Laidlaw provides a compelling account of the reality of zoos that will help modern youth re-orient societal attitudes to wildlife. -Rod Preece, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Wilfrid Laurier University, author of Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities; Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb; Brute Souls, Happy Beasts and Evolution, and several other volumes.

Wild Animals in Captivity is an excellent overview of one of the most popular forms of children’s entertainment: zoos. Laidlaw has extensive knowledge of how captivity affects wild animals, and what, if anything, children actually learn from their zoo experiences.He discusses important ethical issues in a manner that is accessible to young people and enlightening to adults. Ultimately, Wild Animals in Captivity poses the question of whether animals should be kept in zoos at all. However, it allows readers to come to their own conclusions. A must-read for anyone interested in animals and wildlife. -Catharine Grant, Author, The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights (New Internationalist, 2007)

For the first time this is a book that encourages children to question – rather than accept – what they see and to look at captivity through the eyes of those on the other side of the bars. It nurtures the spark of conscience that “something” is wrong in so many zoos today and offers both insight and opportunity for putting it right. This book will compel zoo directors and visitors alike to question the value of captivity – not from any conservation perspective – but purely and simply from the physical and emotional needs of the animals themselves. When we can look these animals in the eyes and know they are content we will have done our job. -Jill Robinson MBE, Founder & CEO, Animals Asia Foundation

If there ever was a book that taught empathy, compassion, and respect to our fellow beings, that captured the spirit and essence of the varied species with whom we share our planet, this Wild Animals in Captivity is certainly it. Through personal stories and observations, Rob Laidlaw has beautifully juxtaposed the quality of the lives of animals in the wild to those in captivity. This splendid book will open up the hearts, minds and awareness of its readers, young and old, to the beauty of animals, and to the terrible plight of so many of them in captivity. Beautifully, we are educated as to the ways their lives can and should be improved. It is clearly one of the best books on animals, be they in the wild, or in captivity, I have ever read. It’s clear information and powerful message must spread to young and old alike. -Elliot M. Katz, DVM, President, In Defense of Animals

Wild Animals in Captivity is a visually stunning and engagingly written book that tells the story of zoo animals and contrasts their lives to those “at home in the wild.” Most zoos, from grim roadside exhibits to huge urban displays, are sadly wanting. But author Rob Laidlaw gives practical advice about how to evaluate animal treatment and lists ways to improve it. He also sees signs of progress – in 2005, for example, the venerable Detroit Zoo permanently shut down its elephant exhibit. Laidlaw also identifies compassionate models for the future, notably sanctuaries for the elephants, polar bears, whales, dolphins and Great Apes he believes should never be kept in zoos. -Elizabeth Abbott, Animal advocate, Author of Sugar: A Bittersweet History, A Natural History of Celibacy & A Natural History of Mistresses

Rob Laidlaw’s groundbreaking book for children on the monstrous realities faced by wild animals in captivity informs while it educates, and offers guidance amid depictions of misery. But most of all it is a poignant plea for the group least inclined towards mistreating animals to learn and ultimately act on their behalf. Often caught in powerless situations of their own, children have an instinctual empathy and sensitivity towards animals that sadly dissipates in many of us in adulthood. They will provide the best of reading publics. Beautifully illustrated and written in clear cogent language, Wild Animals in Captivity is timely, authentic and quietly passionate. I thoroughly recommend it not only to children but to all those who strive to make a better world for those who cannot vote and whose existence as mere spectacle denies dignity on both sides of the zoo divide. -Max Foran, Professor, Faculty of Communication and Culture, University of Calgary, Author The Madonna List

Wild Animals in Captivity is an excellent resource book that teaches children and their parents’ responsibility for the welfare of the captive animals in our midst, by learning to discern between the good, the bad, and the ugly in animal care. Rob Laidlaw stays entirely focused on animal need – not the human agenda – while gently encouraging children to get involved and make a difference; a life lesson that will ultimately benefit both animal and man. -Else M.B. Poulsen, Zookeeper, Author Smiling Bears, Journey into the Heart of Bears

A brillant introduction to the welfare of animals in zoos. Rob’s book is well researched, thought-provoking and is an essential read for all young people. It will make you think twice the next time you see an animal in the zoo and wonder if we should indeed keep wildlife in the wild. This book is an essential handbook for all budding zoocheckers or anyone interested in making a positive difference in the lives of captive animals. -Louis Ng, Executive Director, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), Singapore

This book is a powerful and easy to understand view of the lives many wild animals lead in captivity. It is a real eye-opener for children and adults alike, raising legitimate questions about the quality of life we are imposing on captive wildlife. It does so without judgmental or radical statements,simply inviting the reader to use their own judgment in thinking about the conditions many of these animals are living in. The descriptions of the animals in captivity sadden me immensely and I hope that many readers will come to the conclusion that it is time for humans to reconsider our desire to impose a lifetime of captivity on many species of wild animals. -Vicki Burns, Former Executive Director, Winnipeg Humane Society

Children both want and deserve to experience honesty. In this book, Rob Laidlaw delivers with respect and sensitivity, the sometimes disturbing truth about animals in captivity. In the process he equips children with critical insights and an ability to view captive wild animals with compassion and intelligence. Far from leaving children with a sense of hopelessness, Rob’s practical suggestions will serve to empower children in their own quest to improve the future for all wild animals. – Cathy Kinsman, Co-founder and Project Director, Whale Stewardship Project

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