Animal Captors

There are 2,178 facilities registered as Class C – Exhibitors with USDA APHIS.

(Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)

APHIS defines individuals and businesses in this category as: “Individuals or businesses with warm-blooded animals that are on display, perform for the public, or are used in educational presentations must be licensed as exhibitors with APHIS. Licensed exhibitors include circuses, zoos, educational displays, petting farms/zoos, animal acts, wildlife parks, marine mammal parks, and some sanctuaries. The animals involved in the exhibition may include domestic and exotic animal species.”

(Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)

A 2017 analysis found that Class C businesses could be classified as the following:

Class C Business Type%
Zoological Facility19
Outreach / Entertainment (animal-related)18
Retail Services5
Exhibiting Sanctuaries5
Petting Zoo4
Nature Center3
Wildlife Rehabilitation3
Production Work3
Educational Institution1
Amusement Park1
Sanctuary (not exhibiting)1

These percentages do not include the 12.8% of businesses with an unknown purpose. The remaining categories identified (alternate mission non-profit, animal shelter, hobbyist, breeder, conservation breeding, hospitality, and research facility) represent <1% each.

(Why Animals Do The Thing)

Of the 240 Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited facilities, 54% are non-profit, 34% are public, and 11% are for profit.

(The Association of Zoos and Aquariums)

AZA estimates that AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums care for 800,000 animals of 6,000 species, 1,000 of which are threatened or endangered.

(The Association of Zoos and Aquariums)

AZA states that zoos and aquariums contributed over $22.5 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, supporting 198,000 jobs and serving 183 million annual visitors in the US.

(The Association of Zoos and Aquariums)

In 2018, there were more visitors to zoos and aquariums than to MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL games combined!

According to ESPN reports, 131 million visitors attended games that season, but AZA reported 183 million visitors in 2018.

(Entertainment and Sports Programming Network)

(The Association of Zoos and Aquariums)

“A survey conducted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, in collaboration with national and regional zoo and aquarium associations, showed that annually more than 700 million people visit zoos and aquariums worldwide and are thus potentially exposed to environmental education. Furthermore, the world zoo and aquarium community reportedly spends about US$ 350 million on wildlife conservation each year.”


“100 million wild animals are traded internationally each year. According to In Defense of Animals, up to 5,000 zoo animals are killed each year — mind you, only in Europe.”

(Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

According to the RSPCA, an estimated 600,000 birds and mammals are kept in the world’s zoos.

(Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

According to a survey of BornFree USA in 2016, 19 states have bans on private ownership of exotic animals, 12 states have partial bans, 14 states require exotic animal owners to obtain a license or permit, and 5 states have no license/permit requirements or state statues.

State laws regarding exotic animalsStates
“Ban on private ownership of exotic animals – at least large cats)” Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington
“partial ban on private ownership of exotic animals”Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming
” require the “owner” of the exotic animal to obtain a license or permit

from the relevant state agency to privately possess the animal (excludes states

only requiring import permits)”

Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas
“no license or permit requirements, but may regulate some aspect thereof (entry permit, veterinary certificate, etc.) or have no state statute governing this issue”Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin

(Born Free USA)

“Every major circus that uses animals has been cited for violating the minimal standards of care set forth in the Animal Welfare Act.”

(Born Free USA)

“Animals in circuses typically travel 11 months of the year, a lifestyle that makes it impossible to meet the needs of wild animals. While they’re traveling, animals spend long periods of time in confinement and social isolation. They’re denied the opportunity to exercise, socialize, forage and play. During travel elephants are typically chained inside of boxcars or trucks. Lions and tigers are usually kept in small travel cages only large enough to stand up and turn around.”

(Paws and Learn Humane Education Center)

Captivity by Animal

A 2016 wild feline census found the Feline Conservation Foundation (FCF) found a total of 5144 big cats were being kept in facilities in the US.

(Feline Conservation Foundation)

The 2016 FCF census found that Florida had the highest number of big cats: 853, compared to runner-ups Texas and California, with 399 and 394 recorded big cats, respectively.

(Feline Conservation Foundation)

Big cats by species:

SpeciesNumber of cats
Snow Leopard164

(Feline Conservation Foundation)

The 2016 FCF census found that 2,300 tigers were being kept in captivity. According to WWF, an estimated 3,900 tigers remain in the wild.

(Feline Conservation Foundation)

(World Wildlife Fund Inc.)

“The following is a partial listing (781) of incidents in the U.S. involving captive exotic cats since 1990. The U.S. incidents have resulted in the deaths of 25 humans, 20 adults and 5 children, the additional mauling of 272 more adults and children, 290 escapes, the killing of 150 big cats, and 134 confiscations. There have also been 361 big cat incidents outside the U.S. that have resulted in the deaths of 117 humans and the mauling of 192 humans by captive big cats. These figures only represent the headlines that Big Cat Rescue has been able to track. Because there is no reporting agency that keeps such records the actual numbers are certainly much higher.”

(Big Cat Rescue)

“Florida boasts the most comprehensive sets of regulations allowing private ownership of exotic cats while ranking #1 in the highest numbers of big cat killings, maulings and escapes.”

(Big Cat Rescue)

While the total number of dog-related fatalities is greater than the number of fatal tiger attacks, these numbers hide the fact that an estimated 35% of American households owned an estimated 52 million dogs in 1994 [Sacks et al., 1996].”

(Big Cat Rescue)

According to Lincoln Park Zoo, there are over 1,300 chimpanzees kept in captivity in the United States.

Facility Type# Chimpanzees
AZA-accredited facilities249
Unaccredited facilities142
Biomedical laboratories282
GFAS sanctuaries675


According to Humane Society International, the US killed 1.76 million farmed mink and 2,360 farmed foxes in fur farms in 2018.

(Humane Society International)

“We analyzed data from over 4500 elephants to show that animals in European zoos have about half the median life span of conspecifics in protected populations in range countries.”


“There are at present roughly 305 elephants at 62 A.Z.A.-accredited zoos in the United States. How many are in nonaccredited facilities, circuses and roadside zoos is less clear; PETA has estimated the number at around 70. What is clear is that the captive elephant population in the United States is dwindling at a rate in many ways eerily commensurate with that of their wild counterparts, like shadows fading with the dimming of their source.”

(The New York Times)

“The Times did a first-of-its-kind analysis of 390 elephant fatalities at accredited U.S. zoos for the past 50 years. It found that most of the elephants died from injury or disease linked to conditions of their captivity, from chronic foot problems caused by standing on hard surfaces to musculoskeletal disorders from inactivity caused by being penned or chained for days and weeks at a time.”

(The Seattle Times)

According to Daniella Chusyd, M.A., a doctoral student in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Nutrition Sciences, “Obesity affects about 40 percent of African elephants in captivity… Much as we see in humans, excess fat in elephants contributes to the development of heart disease, arthritis, a shorter lifespan and infertility.”

(One Green Planet)

“Cramped conditions and hard floors cause arthritis and issues with their feet and joints. Psychological distress from by the absence of exercise and companionship leads captive elephants to exhibit abnormal, repetitive behaviors like head bobbing. Some zoos still use negative reinforcement training, like prodding animals with painful bullhooks. This practice aggravates elephants and led to 31 zookeeper injuries and deaths since 1990.”

(One Green Planet)

“There are currently at least 2,360 cetaceans in captivity worldwide – ~2,000 dolphins, 227 beluga and 53 orca (killer whales). However, more than 5,000 cetaceans have died in captivity since the 1950s.”

(Change For Animals Foundation)

“But even if born in captivity, the main concern for many marine mammals is the artificial and barren nature of the captive environment, particularly the amount of space provided. In the wild, cetaceans can travel from 60 to 225km a day, at speeds from 30 to 50km per hour, and they can dive hundreds of meters deep. No facility can simulate the vast reaches of the ocean that these animals traverse. Even in the largest facilities cetaceans are only allowed access to less than 0.0001 percent (one millionth) of their normal habitat.”

(World Animal Protection)

“The deepest orca dive on record is over 3500 feet. The deepest orca tank in the world is about 35 feet.”

(Animal Welfare Institute)

“In the 30 years between 1975-2005, 1.3 million African grey parrots were removed from the continent for the international pet trade and the species is now threatened. Central and West African forests likely lost double that number due to unreported illegal trade and high mortality in capture and transport.”

(National Geographic)

Efficacy of Captivity

A 2005 survey found that 86% of zoo visitor groups visited for social or recreational purposes, while 6% attended to learn about animals and 8% attended to see a particular animal.

(College of Agriculture & Life Sciences – Visitor Studies Association)

A 2017 survey of 1110 Americans found that 73% of adults strongly or somewhat support the existence of zoos and aquariums. However, more participants reported being more opposed to zoos and aquariums (25%) at the time of the survey compared to a decade ago than those who reported being more in favor (17%).

(YouGov NY)

This survey found that individuals that are over 55, not from the Northeast, and white were more likely to strongly or somewhat support zoos and aquariums. However, they found that males and females equally supported zoos and aquariums (73%).

(YouGov NY)

According to a 2015 study of a critically endangered bird species, Ardeotis nigriceps, “Implementing effective in situ conservation measures within the next decade plus not removing wild eggs will recruit more adult females to the wild within 30 years than a captive‐breeding and release programme, even with the ‘best possible’ standards of captive breeding and assuming that released birds breed as well as wild birds.”

(British Ecological Society)

“The commitment to and standard of public education in the majority of the dolphinaria analysed for this investigation was poor. At the 13 dolphinaria where such information was collected, only four displayed species information signs about the cetaceans displayed.”


“Of the 18 shows analysed at 17 dolphinaria in 10 EU Member States, information on the biology and behaviour of the animals shown was only included in an average 12% of show commentary. Two shows provided no such information. Of the 18 shows, 17 failed to inform the public about where the species are found in the wild, eight failed to identify the dolphins as mammals and none of the 18 shows mentioned the conservation status of the species.”


A 2020 study found that conservation action prevented 21-32 bird and 7-16 mammal extinctions between 1993 and 2020. Taking into consideration the 10 bird and 5 mammal extinctions in the same period, extinction rates would have been 2.9-4.2 times greater without action. Actions were implemented in collaboration between governments, NGOs, zoos, scientists, volunteers, and others.

To measure the degree to which this was achieved, we used expert elicitation to estimate the number of bird and mammal species whose extinctions were prevented by conservation action in 1993–2020 (the lifetime of the CBD) and 2010–2020 (the timing of Aichi Target 12). We found that conservation action prevented 21–32 bird and 7–16 mammal extinctions since 1993, and 9–18 bird and two to seven mammal extinctions since 2010. Many remain highly threatened and may still become extinct. Considering that 10 bird and five mammal species did go extinct (or are strongly suspected to) since 1993, extinction rates would have been 2.9–4.2 times greater without conservation action.”

(The Society for Conservation Biology)

“In 2011, Conde et al. conducted a study aimed at estimating the total number of species in the world held in captivity and in order to do that they used the database from the International Species Information System (ISIS) (now called Species360) – the most comprehensive database on zoos and aquariums in the world. They obtained the threat category of each species from the database and it turns out that ISIS zoos hold nearly 15 per cent of the total IUCN threatened species in the world. However, the drawback here is that most ISIS zoos are concentrated in the temperate regions whereas most threatened species are tropical. Clearly there is a mismatch between the areas where the captive populations are held and their native ranges/habitats. Unfortunately, there are still large parts of the world with high biodiversity value whose zoos are not represented in the global zoo network.”

(Wild Welfare)

“An average of around 25 per cent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened (Figure SPM.3), suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss.”

(The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services)

According to a 2019 survey by World Animal Protection, 75% of zoos and aquariums offered at least one type of animal-visitor interaction.

Type of animal-visitor interaction%
Petting experiences43
Walk- or swim-through enclosure experiences33
Shows/performances involving wildlife30
Indirect/non-hand feeding experiences28
Hand-feeding experiences23
Drive-through or cage dive experiences8
Riding experiences5
Walking with wildlife experiences5

A 2014 study found that 41% of educator-guided visits and 34% of unguided visits resulted in conservation biology-related learning.

(The Society for Conservation Biology)