The Truth About Unaccredited Roadside Zoos

Spring Break, only a few weeks away, is a great time for families to visit the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden and enjoy other outdoor activities. In fact, it’s frequently the biggest week of the year at the OKC Zoo – last year’s record-breaking attendance topped 93,000!

But when deciding to visit a zoo or other organization that hosts animals, it’s critical that Oklahomans select organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), like the Oklahoma City Zoo. AZA is the international leader in animal care, conservation and family fun! AZA approval is the gold standard of animal welfare and conservation.

When families visit an AZA-accredited organization like the Oklahoma City Zoo and the Tulsa Zoo, they can be certain that the animals are not being exploited or abused. This means that caretakers are trained experts, animal habitats are designed to reflect their natural environments, animals enjoy enrichment activities that keep them mentally stimulated, and top-notch veterinary treatment is provided. AZA also maintains species survival plans that help ensure the genetic health of future generations.

Unfortunately, not all zoos are committed to this high level of animal care. Many roadside attraction zoos are motivated solely by profit, engage in wildlife exploitation and participate in the illegal wildlife trade. And yet, these businesses continue to thrive due to a lack of awareness of the deplorable conditions their animals are subjected to.

It’s time Oklahomans learn the truth.

AZA members like the Oklahoma City Zoo strive to ensure that wildlife in their care are not stressed by external factors.  Animal selfies, a frequent selling point of unaccredited roadside zoos, perpetuate animal cruelty. Many species people most want to cuddle or take selfies with, don’t do well being continually handled. The training required behind-the-scenes to get the animals “selfie-ready” is blatant animal cruelty.

National Geographic recently reported that animals commonly featured in selfies were illegally taken from the wild and kept in captivity in appalling conditions. Instagram now restricts the ability of users to find posts featuring animal selfies.

Other animals, commonly lion and tiger cubs, are speed-bred in captivity and prematurely weaned from their mothers. The lives of these big cats are spent in small cages. Their diet is not regulated. Their sickness is not treated. Their existence is determined by the profit they generate for their owner.

These animals are also frequently inbred due to poor population management and suffer greatly due to resulting genetic conditions.

Bottom line: if you care about animals, avoid unaccredited zoos.

Support AZA-accredited conservation organizations like the Oklahoma City Zoo that exist to educate guests and protect wildlife and wild places.

Dwight Lawson

Dwight Lawson
Executive Director and CEO, Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden

More information about the AZA, including a full list of the 238 accredited member organizations, is at

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