Zoochosis, also known as Abnormal Repetitive Behavior in Animals (ARB), is one of the consequences of the use of animals 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 zoochosis is and what some of its main causes and consequences are.

What is zoochosis?

Different species of animals are often used for human entertainment and leisure. Environments such as zoos or circuses 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 of animals in captivity have shown that, sooner or later, those living in captivity deal with a frustration and a range of behaviours that are unusual in their natural environments. Despite the fact that this phenomenon is becoming more and more widespread, the latter seems to cause such a surprise that it has been necessary to transfer a term from human psychopathology to emphasize the negative causes of captivity in animals.

This term is “zoochosis”, which has been described as a phenomenon apparently derived from psychosis, or analogous to it. Ultimately, this means that zoochosis is a type of mental disorder developed by animals in captivity.

The above, however, has not been scientifically systematized, because experiences of psychosis have a subjective component important for their description (not only observable); which makes it difficult to translate them directly into 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 in which psychology and ethology converge and animal rights activism .

Stereotypical behaviour in animals

Abnormal Repetitive Behavior, or rather, stereotypical behavior, has been associated in both humans and animals with restrictive environments (Lewis, 2007). This is why zoochosis has also been described as a form of stereotypical behaviour of animals living in captivity and which accounts for the serious obstacles that these environments represent for their development.

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

Main causes and behavioral manifestations

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

The final consequence of this is often self-mutilation and other self-destructive behaviour (Adamiec, 2014). Similarly, walks or strolls following the same route with no apparent functionality; twisting and repetitive neck movements; immediate and repeated vomiting after eating; head-butting against the wall; excessively violent behaviour, both to other animals and to humans, have been observed (Stephen, 1993).

After analyzing the specific case of the elephants in different American zoos , Dick (2016) tells us that the limited space creates different and severe impediments for the 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 cannot do in captivity.

Containment and prevention strategies

Following the case of elephants, Dick (2016) analyses how some zoos contain animal behaviour. Under the argument that elephants “misbehave”, some of them use hooks, whips or wood. Also, some entertainment offerings to visitors include conducting car washes from elephant trunks, spraying water from their trunks onto cars, and taking rides (pp. 3-4). The same author analyses the difficulties in feeding them and facilitating their reproduction, as well as the strategies to capture them in the wild .

Other strategies 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, different groups have increasingly spoken out against life in captivity, for example, through laws focused on animal rights, and on evaluating or denouncing the living conditions of different zoos. In some cases, there are calls to improve these conditions, and in others to return the animals to their natural environment. Likewise, the creation of pedagogical strategies that show the negative consequences of the use of animals for entertainment has been promoted , and as a consequence, their presence in circuses within several countries has been prohibited.

Bibliographic references:

  • Elisha, B. (2017). What is zoochosis?. Worldatlas. Retrieved August 9, 2018. Available at https://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. Recovered August 9, 2018. Available at http://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 https://search.proquest.com/docview/406825295?accountid=15292.