14 min read

The Reason Why I no Longer Enjoy Theme Park's Zoo

Growing up, I used to love visiting Drayton Manor Theme Park. Despite not being much of an adrenaline junkie, I'd always find some solace in the fact that I could visit the zoo and be surrounded by animals. For me, that was far more exciting than any nausea-inducing roller coaster. It was only one I got older I started seeing the zoo for what it really was. I saw a lonely Sumatran tiger pacing its cage, assumedly searching for its companion (who died a few years ago), small primates kept in small, hot, glass cages, with seemingly no access to clean air, penguins in small enclosures covered in feces, with young children easily able to reach down over the low gate and grab at the defenseless birds.

(An example of a marmoset house: it is entirely indoors, and houses several of the small primates. Other small primates live in similar houses.)

Another example of an animal in peril is the lone chimpanzee who lives at the zoo. His name is Toto, ages 47, and he's lived alone for the past eight years ever since his partner Topsy died: having spent 45 years together. The zoo has stated that Topsy is "too old" to be introduced to a new companion, and so have decided that it is best to leave this highly-social creature to live out the rest of his days alone. The average lifespan in captivity is 50 years, which means Toto's at the end of his life: but does this really mean that he should be condemned to live the rest of his life alone? A sign on his enclosure tells his whole sad story.

(A section of the small penguin enclosure. The water is dirty and filled with feces. (Note the height of the gates).)

Another animal that I can't help but feel sorry for is their lone Sumatran Tiger. It paces up and down a small cage day in, day out, and the thought that always comes to my head is: that is one sad tiger. A proud, majestic animal reduced to repetitive behaviour, in an environment a fraction of the size of its natural habitat. It's hard to know if this tiger was captive-born or if it ever knew freedom, as the zoo's website discloses very little about the animal, but it's certainly not hard to see that this tiger is - for want of a better word - depressed. There were once two tigers (brothers), and though the enclosure was surely more cramped with two, and despite the fact that tigers normally stay apart in the wild, they seemed happy enough together. But when its partner died, it seemed that the tiger lost all interest in its existence. These tigers are critically endangered, and keeping one alone can hardly be considered "conservation". Surely, it would be kinder to move the tiger to a bigger, better enclosure, where it could successfully mate and produce offspring, thus helping the species recover? In the small indoor area of the enclosure, the tiger can be seen sitting motionless for long periods of time, while children squeal and bang on the glass, which must be distressing for an animal with such sensitive hearing. The black leopard has a similar situation, pacing up and down its cage, spending long hours sleeping within its wire-cage, the noise of the theme park rattling around it.

Other animals at the zoo include Lar Gibbons, Ringtail Lemurs, Marmosets and Tamarins, Brazilian Tapirs, Northern Lynxes, Fishing Cats, Scottish Wildcats, Meerkats, Snakes, Tortoises and Turtles, Parrots, various Birds of Prey, African Crested Porcupines, etc...

(Two adjoining gibbon enclosures (see gibbon top left).)

The smaller primate cages seem to be small, too. A far cry from their natural environment.

It's undoubtedly true that, without zoos, us humans would not hold as much respect as we currently do for many animals, especially those who are endangered. And, it's clear to see that Drayton Manor zoo is doing a lot to support various animal charities, as well as providing a spacious home for the majority of their animals. Tapirs roam in large fields, and meerkats have a spacious, heated inside den that people can walk through via a raised walkway, as well as a large outdoor enclosure. Inside reptile houses give people an amazing view of exotic reptiles lazing in the humid heat they would experience in their natural environment. But there are some instances where animal welfare should come before profits. Drayton Manor, as a whole, is known as a theme park, not a zoo. the zoo covers little more than 15 acres, and houses over 100 animals. In this space are large walkways, a railway line for a small attraction train, cafes, and parks for children. On the other hand, West Midlands Safari Park covers 200 acres and houses over 600 animals, who are allowed to roam relatively freely, while the humans are contained in the tiny box. Surely this is the way to go? Allowing animals to roam in a more natural (though not perfect) environment, alongside those of their own kind, rather than having them confined to a tiny cage, offering little to the conservation effort.

In all, it's unfair to keep animals in tiny cages next to a theme park full of loud, rattling rides and screaming guests; a far cry from their natural habitat. The park covers 280 acres, of which only 113 are in use. In all, only 13% of the land used is dedicated to the zoo. What about the other 167 acres? Surely some of this could be easily developed to accommodate for the animals currently residing at the zoo, to make their lives more comfortable, and to allow for a better experience for visitors. Peering in at an animal through a wire cage is saddening to anyone. Though, another option is for the park to get rid of the zoo altogether. It's run-down, with seemingly little effort put into maintenance anymore (enclosures are dirty and crumbling, populations are dwindling - as seen in the case of the chimps and the Sumatran Tiger), and it's not what draws customers in. Animals there could easily be relocated to larger zoo or rescue facilities in the UK (eg Monkey World in Dorset) to live out their days in peace and happiness.

I was surprised to see very little about the quality of the zoo anywhere. There are few posts raising concerns about the conditions, despite Drayton Manor having a maximum capacity of 15,000 visitors per day, and being the fifth most popular theme park in the UK.

(A Northern Lynx sniffs at its cage.)

After scouring the internet, I found very few reviews of the zoo that held any useful insight: after all, Drayton Manor is a theme park, and so reviews are often centred in that aspect of the park. However, some I found are particularly striking and revealing.

One TripAdvisor review read: "Animals in awful conditions... Specifically the reptile house where tortoises were in cramped conditions with mixed species of other tortoises and iguanas. There were some large tortoises climbing the glass trying to escape obviously stressed.In particular they have red footed tortoises which were so deformed from poor diet and husbandry it was heartbreaking. A juvenile tortoise limbs were thin and shell indented badly in places. Tortoises as well as other wild animals should have fresh air, room to roam and proper diet. We were appalled at their conditions..."

Another read: "Every time I've been [to Drayton Manor] the tigers have been locked up in the viewing room about as big as my living room, not good for a big tiger, on my last visit there was only 1 tiger in the viewing room & a notice on the window saying that the other tiger had died...no wonder if they're kept in confinement like this. The black panther was also very distraught walking up & down its cage in a mental state, very sad! I think Drayton manor can cope with small animals but NOT The larger animals. I think something should be done about this, the worst zoo I've seen, maybe move them to another suitable zoo as other zoo's have larger enclosures & the animals can live more freely..."

Want to help? You can visit change.org and sign this petition to encourage Drayton Manor to take action against the appalling conditions in their zoo.