Gloomy Portraits of Zoo Animals Living In their Manmade Worlds


When people take pictures of captive animals in zoos, oftentimes their goal is to shoot the images in a way that makes the animals appear to be in the wild. Photographer Daniel Zakharov does no such thing. Rather than make the glass, bars, and concrete disappear off to the sides of the frame, Zakharov intentionally captures the fact that the animals are found in unnatural environments.

Through his project titled “Modern Wilderness,” the German photographer attempts to address the issue of “animals in imprisonment.” Rather than cheery, colorful photographs of animals frolicking in their enclosures, Zakharov’s images show subdued colors and animals that look like they’re depressed and contemplating the meaning of life.

“My intention was not to criticize zoos,” Zakharov writes. Instead, he hopes to “focus on the strange and bizarre daily life of animals.”

He says that the title “Modern Wilderness” highlights the fact that the animals are born in captivity “between concrete, tiling, cement-slab buildings and artificial landscapes” rather than the “endless stretch of nature” found in the wild. The animals “have lost the memory of their ancestral breeding grounds.”











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Modern Wilderness

You can find the entire project over on Zakhorav’s website.

Modern Wilderness by Daniel Zakhorav (via My Modern Met via Flavorwire)

Image credits: Photographs by Daniel Zakharov and used with permission

  • Monteraz

    The sadness in these images is such a pain…

  • agour

    these photos summarise exactly how I feel about zoos… I hate the places, so sad seeing animals cooped up like this

  • Jared

    Wow. This zoo in particular seems seems to be all steel and concrete. With residential buildings in such close close proximity, it’s hard to imagine the animals ever have any sense of peace.

  • niXerKG

    PETA is probably throwing money at this guy!

    The seal looking through the porthole is heart breaking. I am torn. I love going to my local zoo because of all the interesting animals but I know I’d rather them be free in the wild, however then I’d have no way to see them in person unless I get more money that gives me more free time as well.

    This zoo looks odd to be in the middle of residential places. Not saying my zoo, Brookfield Zoo is better, (They are right next to highschool) but it’s mostly wooded.

    I do wish zoos were way bigger to let the animals run wild.

  • Adam Cross

    I really hate zoos.

  • laura

    Is it my computer or does anyone else recently has had this site become slower for them…as in it loads the pictures way slower.

  • fred

    with man’s continuous and careless encroachment of the “wild”, the only place to see these animals eventually, are in zoos. that’s sad.

  • Alessandro Aimonetto

    one sensed and sensible comment :) love you

  • Isabella

    Zoos are generally not working for releasing of animals. You can’t release animals that have gotten used to humans staring at them. That’s the problem, you’re either a serious rehabilitation/conservation center that prepares animals for the wild, or you are showing them to the public for money. Some places manage to do both, but the visitors must be strictly controlled and only allowed to be seen by animals that aren’t to close to being released.

  • Robin Junicke

    often its more like a prison…

  • dennispike

    Not true at all. The SSP uses genetically diverse captive animals to breed for release into the wild. Captive animals are released into the wild frequently. Certainly, many animals that become used to human interaction are not capable of release, but their young are.If you think zoos primary function is as a business to make money you clearly have zero knowledge of zoological facilities. I, however, do. I happen to be married to a zoologist, and the number of zoologist that i know is in the dozens. Please don’t speak on a subject you are clearly ignorant of.

  • Isabella

    If you read my comment again I said that zoos generally are not working for the release. Of course there are exceptions, but the protection of endangered animals are most often just a cover-up. Even if SSP would be great, how big portion world’s zoos are involved in it? It’s really naive to think that all, or a majority of all zoos are working for the well fare of the animals.
    Also, the difficulties with releasing is not because of the zoos, there are huge difficulties with finding habitats that are suitable. Often there are more animals than needed in the zoos, just because the baby boom draws a bigger public. For example tigers, if the zoos were so great at releasing animals, why aren’t they doing something about the low tiger population in the wild? There are now more captive tigers in just america than wild tigers. Yes, it’s a great gene pool (except that a lot of zoos breed the white tigers that are a waste of genes), but is it really right that the majority of the population is captive? I don’t think so. In that case they should do less breeding and more habitat reconstruction.

    I’m not ignorant, thank you very much, just not gullible and swallowing all the rosy promises of what a great world we live in. I can show you several examples of zoo animals faring really badly if you honestly think that all zoos are great.

  • dennispike

    I said “reputable zoos” as of April 2013 there are 222 accredited facilities in the united states alone. To be accredited by the AZA the facility must meet quite a large number of very strict criteria, and conservation is one of them. So yes, there are a TON of reputable facilities. And of course there are some that are not. But they are outnumbered by the good ones. All you have done is further prove how ignorant you are on the subject.

  • laurajwooton

    Yeah. Both the Prezwalski’s horse, and the California Condor would be extinct if it they weren’t saved by zoos. The Prezwalski’s horse was extinct in the wild for a time, but they are now back in the wild and getting stronger. The California Condor was once down to only 22 birds when they captured the last wild one. Through careful breeding, their numbers are now over 400, with many of them now out in the wild.

  • UatuSees

    Here is what I don’t get about zoos. You have all these herbivores from the same ecosystem, and instead of building one large complex for them to share they insist on separating them. That makes no sense to me…

  • Isabella

    “In the US alone” um well, it’s an American organization, so that pretty much represents all of them. According to wikipedia there are now over 1000 zoos worldwide (referring to “Zoo,” Encyclopaedia Britannia, 2008). Since 2008 that number may very well increased, and many private zoos are probably not included (especially the more dodgy ones…). Or do you think that the US represents the whole world?

    So no, that’s not a “ton”. If you by a ton mean a thousand, that’s really not true. Might be true if you’re referring to the weight of the animals in the zoos though.

    And no, the good ones are not “outnumbering” the bad. All you are doing is showing poor argumentation technique by calling me ignorant. Show some real arguments and act decently instead of attacking people.

  • Yoni Mayeri

    beautifully done, so sad to see these creatures in captivity

  • Z

    Not to mention, that a lot of people don’t even know how the animals they eat look like. Zoos are bad, but at least people can get to know these animals and eventually learn to care. I hope.

  • Benicio Murray

    I came here to say exactly the same thing

  • wickerprints

    An organism’s dietary needs does not in itself determine an appropriate habitat or ecological niche. You can’t just lump all herbivores together, because not all herbivores eat the same kinds of plants. And if they did, that in itself would lead to trouble, since certain animals don’t socialize well with other species; some are large, others small, and there would be competition for food, even when food is abundant.

    When done well, a zoo is able to simulate entire ecosystems in which multiple animals and plants coexist in a single exhibit. In many cases, this requires a lot of land, so it is not always feasible, although it is the ideal arrangement for captive animals.

    In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need zoos. But the world isn’t perfect, and zoos serve a critical purpose in education, outreach, conservation, and research. People who obstinately idealize and anthropomorphize animals and rail against zoos as inherently cruel are out of touch with reality, much in the same way that animal activists might think they are doing a favor to a captive born wild animal by releasing it into the wild, only to have it predated upon or die of starvation. Without zoos, many endangered species would already have become extinct.

  • Hayley Gravener

    Humans!!!! Not all but some who ruin lives of animals. For what??? Entertainment. When is enough? :-(

  • Hayley Gravener

    Well comments below….. why do you think they are becoming extinct???….. Humans!!!

  • Gary

    At the AZA accredited National Zoo in Washington, DC, the elephant area is distressingly small and barren. Their elephant Toni was given massive doses of painkillers for her arthritis, but this was hidden from the public. An independent elephant veterinarian – not connected to zoos – looked at her and determined that her lack of room and exercise contributed to her crippling arthritis. She had to be put down.

    Another time at the zoo, crowds were laughing at the funny motions and noises of the camel – again in a ridiculously small and barren area. Turns out she was dying.

    A friend who used to work at the National Zoo tell how they would sell older animals to awful roadside zoos or research labs.

    When the Detroit Zoo director wisely and compassionately decided that a zoo, especially in a cold climate, was no place for an elephant, the AZA fought him.

    So much for AZA accrediting – what a joke.

    The people I see at zoos go there for entertainment. They mostly ignore the little conservation signs. They laugh at and mock the animals and go on their way. They learn that animals are like objects for their pleasure.

    The reason for extinction is habitat loss and greed. It has nothing to do with zoos. We are losing thousands of species in the rainforest every year, mostly due to a growing market for beef. Zoo reintroduction of animals amounts to a rounding error. If we want to save habitat, we should eat a plant-based diet and give to real conservation organizations. Zoos are an anachronism desperately looking for a reason to exist.

  • Gary

    Our desire to see them doesn’t justify making them lifelong prisoners in a zoo.

  • Gary

    It’s been shown time and time again that zoos don’t educate. People go to zoos for entertainment and zoos reinforce the notion of animals as interesting showpieces.

    Animals have psychological needs that cannot be met in a small space with throngs of people. When these needs aren’t met, animals suffer. They get frustrated and develop neurotic habits such as endless pacing to fend off the boredom and inability to make meaningful decisions. This is seen at zoos across the world. That’s not anthropomorphizing, that’s basic science and common sense.

    Virtually every extinction has nothing to with zoos. Most are in the rainforest and are the result of cattle ranching and feedcrops. Meanwhile, zoos serve burgers. If we want to preserve species, we need to change our habits. Zoos are a speciesist anachronism. There are far better, less cruel ways to practice conservation. The tiny amount of conservation accomplished by zoos does not remotely justify the lifelong imprisonment of animals.

  • dennispike

    Where do you get your information from? Because I don’t buy it for a second. Everything I have said can be backed up. When was the last time you were at the National Zoo? I was there a few months ago, and the elephant habitat is quite large.

    I’m not making any statements on what the general public goes to zoos for. I am making a statement on the purpose of zoos.

    Furthermore, what have you done for animal conservation or the health and well being of animals today? You’re a vegetarian? Is that it? Well, pat your self on the back then.

    I would wager that the vast majority of zoo keepers and zoologist do more for animals and the natural world on a weekly basis than most people do in their entire lives. Also, zoos participate in fund raisers all the time that benefit sanctuaries, preserves and conservation. It blows my mind that people who do literally nothing for animals sit back and criticize people who literally dedicate their lives to helping animals.

    I have a feeling a lot of people get brain washed by PETA who in my opinion is probably one of the worst organizations out there. They routinely kill dogs and cats that they “rescue” from shelters. They are for complete animal liberation or death, no middle ground. If you have a dog, guess what, PETA hates you, if you have a cat, guess what, PETA hates you.

  • Isabella

    For not knowing anything about the people you are talking with you sure are quick to make assumptions that they “do literally nothing for animals”. Excuse me? Is the only argument you have to insult people?

    Also the whole point of discussion is that most zoos do not work for the well fare of the animals and thus do not “literally dedicate their lives to helping animals”. Of course some do, and I have nothing but respect for them, but that does not apply for zoos in general.

    Furthermore I don’t get why you get PETA into this, I think I have only seen one or two ads from them in my life. The whole world does not live in the US you know.

  • BlackObamaJesus