, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 7–25 | Cite as

Freedom in Captivity: Managing Zoo Animals According to the ‘Five Freedoms’

  • Nelly MäekiviEmail author
Original Paper


Animal welfare is a complex matter that includes scientific, ethical, economic and other dimensions. Despite the existence of more comprehensive approaches to animal welfare and the obvious shortcomings of the ‘Five Freedoms’, for zoological gardens the freedoms still constitute the general guidelines to be followed. These guidelines reflect both, an ethical view and a science based approach. Analysis reveals that the potential ineptitude of the ‘Five Freedoms’ lies in the manifold perceptions that people have of other animals. These perceptions are biased by our own (mammalian) umwelt, which is intertwined with different cultural attitudes towards other species (e.g. humanistic, moralistic, ecologistic). Perceptions of animals may be held simultaneously by different interest groups and may often be incompatible, thus often making it difficult to follow the ‘Five Freedoms’ in practice. We aim to recognise and consider the multiplicity of factors that, besides animal subjectivity, are relevant in understanding this hybrid environment. The moral value and practical applicability of the ‘Five Freedoms’ are sometimes undermined by prioritising some freedoms over others and by species bias. Both are characteristic phenomena of the zoo as a hybrid environment where other species are managed by humans. Given deficiencies are further amplified by humanistic and moralistic attitudes that people hold.


Zoological gardens Hybrid environment The ‘Five Freedoms’ Animal management Predator-prey relations 



The research for this paper was supported by the institutional research grant IUT02-44 and by the individual research grant PUT1363 “Semiotics of multispecies environments: agencies, meaning making and communication conflicts” from the Estonian Research Council.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SemioticsUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia

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