Topeka Zoo incident highlights issues with animals in captivity

A few days ago, the Topeka Zoo in Topeka, Kansas released a statement regarding the death of 5-year-old ostrich, Karen. She was quite popular amongst the community, and her untimely death was due to reaching outside of her enclosure, grabbing a staff member’s keys and swallowing them. While the staff did try to save her through both “surgical and non-surgical” efforts, they “were unsuccessful.”

Comments are flooded with support, many mentioning how bad they feel for the staff member whose keys caused the incident. While I do not necessarily blame that person, as they more than likely love and care for animals, I do believe that Karen’s death is one of many examples of why animals should be left in their natural habitats and environments.

The Ramapo News is no stranger to animal rights. We have previously featured articles on animal abuse in pet shops, specifically of fish and hamsters. I am here to note that zoos are also inhumane for animals and argue that we should leave exotic animals in their home.

Before Karen, there were five animal deaths in 2024 at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Seahawk the sea lion, Tsuni the elephant calf, Mrithi the gorilla, Kovu the red panda and Kit the lion all died within seven months. Zoo president and CEO Dr. Jeremy Goodman claimed that there was nothing to worry about and the deaths were normal, but I can’t help but wonder if these animals would have lived longer if they weren’t confined to a zoo.

In 2016, Harambe the gorilla was huge news. His death sparked outrage across social media after he was killed by staff at the Cincinnati Zoo. A 4-year-old boy fell into his exhibit and Harambe “dragged the boy through the exhibit’s moat, stood him up, sat him down, and examined his clothes,” according to the Nonhuman Rights Project.

That same year, a man looking to die by suicide jumped into the enclosure of a male and female lion at the Santiago Metropolitan Zoo in Chile. After he removed his clothes and taunted the felines, they attacked him and were then killed by staff. Prior to this incident, a puma and several lions escaped, four giraffes were killed by a fire caused by faulty wiring and a dozen deer died after receiving vaccinations.

I could list many more of these events, but they will all lead me to the same conclusion: exotic animals should not be used for human entertainment. Pandas should be left in central China, tigers should be left in South and Southeast Asia, China and Eastern Russia, and Karen and her fellow ostriches should have been left in Africa, where she would not have swallowed someone’s keys.

While they are beautiful and interesting to look at, while we are having fun, they are trapped in a limited environment completely unlike their home, experiencing behavior changes due to confinement and being mistreated and killed. We, as humans, are animals. If we have rights, so should they.


Featured photo courtesy of Robert Streithorst, Flickr