Blog & Editorial

The ethical dilemma about zoos


Following the publication of a promotional photo of the FélinTensif camp in which we see participants pet a lynx (one of the activities proposed during the camp), we received messages from people concerned with animal exploitation in zoos and forcing animals to ‘suffer’ contact with humans. Well, ket me tell you what FélinTensif is about what you’ll see that everything is not only black or white.


Before addressing the issue of zoos, let’s talk about the photo. You should know that little Sayenne, the lynx that appears in the picture, was rescued from a fur factory where she was destined to become a fur hat! Jacinthe Bouchard, the owner of Zoo Académie, where the FélinTensif camp is held, saved her. Jacinthe socialized Sayenne to an incredible level!

On site, the procedure to see Sayenne is very strict. Participants enter the pen in small groups of 4 or 5, sit in the center and wait. Nobody can get up, pick up or touch Sayenne unless she comes to them of her own accord. She chooses whether she wants to play by herself or with people. Most of the time, she chooses people. In the photo, Sayenne volontarily climbed on the lap of the participants. To her, socializing is rewarding… and she loves caresses! However, there are times when she would rather stay away (usually when it’s too hot) and her decision is always respected.

When Sayenne becomes too excited or her play is particularly intense, we leave the enclosure in order not to encourage this behaviour in the presence of people, as we would do with a domestic cat acting this way. One of the objectives of the camp is to have the opportunity to put into practice the techniques learned in the courses and workshops.

The vocation of Zoo Académie is to train people to develop methods to improve animal care without anesthesia, restraint and stress. Once you’ve seen the 600kg buffalo come to get its injection (it pricks itself!), you’ll be convinced.


Somes people say it would be better to never have contact or socialize captive animals, not to ‘denature’ them. I respect this way of thinking, but personally, I believe that animals have already been denatured by being in a zoo. However, we must not forget that many of these animals come from rescues and that they would not survive in the wild. Zoos also play a role in the protection and conservation of endangered species.In captivity, these animals must be approached by humans for their veterinary care and thousands of people walk around in front of their enclosures to observe them every day. So, why not socialize them to humand and reduce their stress level? I’m not saying that we should make them circus beasts by making them perform things to delight the public (unless it’s rewarding for the animal), but simply to make sure that they are not stressed in the presence of humans and can be provided with the necessary care.

Like me, Jacinthe would prefer if zoos did not exist and that all animals were free. But zoos do exist and won’t disappear tomorrow. Thus, there are two lines of thought. The first is to avoid zoos and never talk about them, hoping they vanish. I respect those who think like this. People from my own team have asked to be exempted from attending the FélinTensif camp because of their values and I fully respect their choice. Personally, I prefer to integrate zoos and use my knowledge to educate people about good practices. If we can’t eliminate zoos, we must ensure that animals be at ease.

I’m sure that the 200 people who have already attended the camp are much more aware of the welfare of animals in captivity, as do children who visit zoos with ethical practices of care, enrichment and education. The FélinTensif camp seeks to draw a parallel between animals in zoos and our house pets. Indeed, are they not captive animals? Of course, there is a big difference between a zoo animal and our little house tigers, but many connections are worth mentioning. Whether we are responsible of a domestic cat or a lynx like Sayenne, it’s essential to understand the principles of enrichment, care training techniques and the decoding of body language, for the welfare or the animals above all.

Rising awareness and educating people, that’s what the FélinTensif camp has always been about.


Daniel Filion

President, Cat Educator

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