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Zoochosis: what it is and how it appears in captured animals

Zoochosis: what it is and how it appears in captured animals

January 25, 2022

The zoochosis, also known as Repetitive Abnormal Behavior in animals (ARB for its acronym in English), is one of the consequences of the use of the latter for human entertainment. It is a pattern of behavior that has been observed in animals in captivity, especially in large mammals.

In this article we will see what is the zoochosis and what are some of its main causes and consequences.

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What is the zoochosis?

Different species of animals are frequently used for entertainment and leisure for humans. Environments such as zoos or circuses they represent only some of the most common and at the same time most negative activities for the animals themselves and their ecosystems.


Both visual and written records on animals in captivity have shown that, sooner or later, those who live in captivity deal with frustration and a series of behaviors unusual in their natural environments. Although it is an increasingly widespread phenomenon, the latter seems to cause such a surprise that it has been necessary to translate a term of human psychopathology to emphasize the negative causes of captivity in animals.

This term is that of "zoochosis", which has been described as a phenomenon apparently derived from psychosis, or analogous to it. Ultimately the above means that the zoochosis in a type of mental disorder that animals develop in captivity.


The foregoing, however, has not been systematized scientifically, because the experiences of psychosis have a subjective component important for its description (not only observable); which makes it difficult to transfer them directly to animal behaviors.

In any case, the term zoochosis has been useful to study and make visible the negative consequences that life in captivity has on different animals. Nowadays, it is part of the colloquial language where psychology converges with ethology and the activism for the rights of the animals .

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Stereotyped behavior in animals

On the other hand, Repetitive Abnormal Behavior, or rather, stereotyped behavior, has been associated in both humans and animals to restrictive environments (Lewis, 2007). This is why the zoochosis has also been described as a way of Stereotyped behavior of animals that live in captivity and that accounts for the serious obstacles that these environments represent for their development.


Stereotyped behavior, as well as other behavioral manifestations, have been especially observed in elephants, bears, gorillas, tigers, giraffes and killer whales in captivity.

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Main causes and behavioral manifestations

As we have seen, the zoochosis or stereotyped behaviors in animals is attributed to life in captivity. More specifically, some of the elements that have been proposed as causes of the zoochosis are the lack of space, which in turn causes lack of privacy, physical exercise and mental stimulation .

The final consequence of the above is usually self-mutilation and other self-destructive behaviors (Adamiec, 2014). Likewise, there have been hikes or walks that follow the same route without apparent functionality; revolving and repetitive neck movements; immediate and repeated vomiting after eating; blows of head against the wall; excessively violent behavior, both to other animals and to humans (Stephen, 1993).

After analyzing the specific case of elephants in different American zoos Dick (2016) tells us that limited space creates different and severe impediments for elephants to develop in a naturally active way. For example, in their natural environments, elephants can travel up to 50 miles in a single day, which they can not do in captivity.

Containment and prevention strategies

Following with the case of elephants, Dick (2016) analyzes how some zoos contain animal behavior. Under the argument that elephants "misbehave," some of them use hooks, whips or wood. Likewise, some offers of entertainment to the visitor include making car washes made by the elephants' tubes, spraying water with their trunks to the cars, and making mounted rides (pp. 3-4). The same author analyzes the difficulties to feed them and to facilitate their reproduction, as well as the strategies to capture them in the wild .

Other strategies that are used within zoos to control the behavior of animals in captivity are the use of medication, specifically anxiolytics and antidepressants, although conditioning techniques are also used (Elisha, 2017).

Finally, there are different and more and more groups that have spoken out against life in captivity, for example, through laws focused on animal rights, and in evaluating or denouncing the living conditions of different zoos. In some cases it is advocated to improve these conditions, and in others for the return of the animals to their natural environment. Likewise, the creation of pedagogical strategies that allow us to see the negative consequences of the use of animals for entertainment , and as a result, their presence in circuses has been banned within several countries.

Bibliographic references:

  • Elisha, B. (2017). What is zoochosis ?. Worldatlas. Retrieved August 9, 2018. Available at //www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-zoochosis.html.
  • Dick, R. (2016). The use of elephants in leisure and its negative effects. Illuminare: a student journal in recreation, parks and leisure studies. 14 (1): 1-9.
  • Adamiec, A. (2014). Sustaining Biodiversity. APES. Retrieved August 9, 2018. Available at //harborside.kusd.edu/projects/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/anna-adamiec-.pdf.
  • Lewis, M., Tanimura, Y. and Lee, L. (2013). Animal models of restricted repetitive behavior in autism. Behav Brain Res. 176 (1): 66-74. doi: 10.1016 / j.bbr.2006.08.023.
  • Stephen, S. (1993). Join the fight to stamp out zoochosis. Column In The Sun, Baltimore, Md. Retrieved August 9, 2018. Available at //search.proquest.com/docview/406825295?accountid=15292.

Zoochosis - Fight For Animal Rights - Zoo Life- Wildlife (January 2022).


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