Haunting Photos Of Animals In Captivity Will Make You Sick To Your Stomach

Almost all of us have visited a zoo in our lifetime. Some of the zoos around the world are made to preserve certain species from being extinct, while some are made for the pleasure of humanity. Although not all the zoos around the world are bad, there exists some that makes these innocent creatures lives as miserable as it can be. Jo-Anne McArthur, a photojournalist, author and humane educator, has captured some stunning views of how miserable the lives of animals can be in captivity. Over the course of a decade, McArthur traveled around the globe to capture these stunning images.




Jo-Anne McArthur visited zoos and aquariums in more than 20 countries in order to capture these images.

Animals in captivity, Jo-Anne McArthur, photography
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

A brown bear at a German zoo.

“The bear traced the same circles across the exhibit over and over, making the exact same turns and bodily movements; pausing in the exact same way at this corner to look beyond the bars, before circling again. For me, the image asks whether the price that animals like this bear have to pay is worth our being momentarily and mindlessly entertained.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation

The images were captured for her new book that explores the interaction between humans and animals in captivity. The book Captive, was released on July 26, 2017, and is available on Amazon.

After visiting zoos and aquariums in more than 20 countries, she was able to capture more than 148 images that portray the harrowing life of animals.

A trio of arctic wolves at a zoo in Germany.

Captivity, wolves, sad, harrowing
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

This image asks the question of whether the boredom, lack of choice, and lack of autonomy that animals in zoos experience day in day out for their entire lives can justify our fleeting entertainment.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation

The aim of her photographs and the book is to show us how we see, and yet fail to see, the suffering of animals in enclosures. It challenges our perception of these establishments anew, leaving us to see through McArthur’s lens, the relationship between we humans and those animals.




A Rothschild’s giraffe at a German zoo.

IKEA, giraffe, sad, captive, captivity, zoo
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

The image points out just how far we remove animals from their natural habitats. Sometimes this is disguised by the murals of jungles or savannah we paint as backdrops at zoos, but other times, the distance we put between them and their homes is accentuated by situations like this one: The zoo is next to an IKEA.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation

Increasingly, zoos and aquaria are being called upon to undertake both ideological and physical changes to their institutions. At the center of the current debates regarding the ethics of captivity are the animals and our moral obligations towards these ‘others,’ said McArthurCaptive looks at the animals we so often fail to truly see, and is my contribution to the ever-growing conversation about keeping these individuals on display.

A jaguar at a French zoo.

Joe-Anne McArthur, photography, captive, animals
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

“This is another image about us, more so than about the animal at the center of the photograph — a commentary about how we fail to really see the individuals who are presumably central to our zoo experience, which is about us, not them.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation

Every day, she shares an image and story about captive animals around the world through the website. Her efforts to bring light into the matter has been recognized by National Geographic, The Guardian, Elle Canada, DAYS Japan, Helsingin Sanomat and many other media outlets.

She is also a recipient of awards and accolades from organizations such as Huffington Post, CBC and numerous animal protection organizations.

A polar bear at a Latvian zoo.

Continents, captive, Canada, Joe McArthur, photo, photography
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

This bear lives alone in this small, barren exhibit. I was struck by the design of the enclosure and its attempt to replicate a cold climate, with its whitewashed walls. The green plants growing in to the back of the enclosure added something real, and a bit pathetic, to the space.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation

The Canadian photographer and animal rights activist, does not deny that her new book could be called “one-sided.” The pictures don’t include depictions of handlers bottle-feeding baby hippos or pandas ultrasounds or even their handlers risking lives to clean cages.

McArthur says that they are taken from the perspective of the public; an aim to show the animals as “individuals,” as opposed to representatives of their species.




A barbary macaque at a zoo in Germany. 

Photography, Monkey, Love, sad, cage
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

“This image is paired with the conclusion of the book. I like that we can’t quite tell who is handing the vegetation to whom.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation

McArthur, who photographed these animals across five continents, does admit that not all zoos are bad and that her images should not be used to compare all of them. While some zoos make the lives of the animals as miserable as they can be, there exists a few that improve the quality of their lives as well as help recover the threatened species.

Tourists pose in front of lechwe, an animal that is similar to an antelope, at a German zoo.

Antelopes, selfie, people, photo
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

“‘Captive’ is about animals, but it’s also about ‘we animals,’ and how we fail to see other species even as we stand before them. Our experiences at zoos and aquaria are, for the most part, about our entertainment. This comes at the expense of those who are kept captive, sometimes for decades.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation




White tigers at a French zoo.

White Tigers, France, French, photo
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

“Two tigers look past their enclosure at the tourists going by, and at the zoo keepers who distribute food to the animals at different times throughout the day.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation

A baltic grey seal at a Lithuanian zoo.

Baltic seal
Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

“This is perhaps my favorite image from the book because it says a lot about how I see our experiences with captive wildlife. They are the centerpiece, the raison d’etre for zoos and aquaria, and yet we make a mockery of them and of ourselves in the way that we interact, and fail to interact, with them. This seal appeared to live alone in this small pool.” – Jo-Anne McArthur/Born Free Foundation

Although some zoos go above and beyond to conserve the lives of species under the threat of extinction, some certainly have questionable methods and standards. Maybe we should research well before visiting a zoo to ensure that the animals are being well-fed and treated properly.

Joe-Anne McArthur shared these images with us to highlight the importance of animals and to view them as living beings. She has been the recipient of many awards for her work in the field, including Huffington Post’s ‘Top 10 Women Trying to Change the World’, one of CBC’s ‘Top 50 Champions of Change’, as well as being the recipient of Toronto’s 2013 Compassion for Animals Award.





Credits: Joe-Anne McArthur, Captive.

Also read: 10 Extinct Animals Scientists Can Bring Back From The Dead.

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