Animals You’ll (Strangely) Never See In Captivity

exotic animals

Zoos and aquariums these days have gone to great lengths to house some of the most exotic animals in the world. But is that really enough for every animal out there? Here are 20 animals you won’t see on your next visit to the zoo or aquarium.

20. Indri

The humble Indri, a species of lemur, is a fascinating specimen with a face that looks like it heard an offensive joke.

© Flickr/vil.sandi

The animal is the largest living Lemur native to Madagascar but unfortunately, its numbers have declined rapidly in the wild due to hunting and deforestation. Population estimates are inaccurate though an estimated guess is anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 individuals still in the wild.

The critically-endangered critter has had no success in captivity either. Only one Indri specimen lived in captivity and only for a year, and we haven’t been able to successfully breed them there either.

The Indri’s unsuccessful attempts in captivity are mostly because of a complex diet of leaves eaten at different times that no-one has figured out and their extreme sensitivity to any environmental changes.

© Wikimedia Commons/Zigomar

19. Blue Whale

There’s a stack of reasons why you won’t find a blue whale in captivity, the obvious one being it’s unethical. The blue whale has an average lifespan on par with humans and being the size of the titanic, businesses would need steady revenue for decades to supply its daily boatload of krill.

Blue whales are also prone to traveling vast distances that an aquarium prison cell couldn’t recreate and even if that was possible, we still don’t fully understand the animals’ biology or needs to sustain its captivity.

Seaworld, famous for its Orca shows, has received widespread criticism over the years for its mistreatment of captive killer whales. Yet, blue whales are three times longer than Orcas.

Just imagine what a monumental task it would be to create a tank large enough.

18. Pink fairy armadillo

This small creature looks a lot like a Pokémon with its flexible dorsal shell, small eyes, and silky white fur.

© Wikimedia Commons/Cliff

The conservation status of the Pink-fairy armadillo is uncertain because you can’t find them easily. The population has been in decline due to predators such as dogs and cats and farming activities.

Researchers found that the armadillo is highly subject to stress which has made conservation efforts such as removing it from its natural habitat extremely difficult. In fact, there have only ever been three reports of successful captivity that lasted about 30 months. Many die during the transportation process or only survive a few days in captivity.

17. Blob-fish

In 2013, this extremely rare deep-sea creature was voted the ugliest animal in the world, however, it only looks like a blob out of water.

© Wikimedia Commons

The blob-fish really is a blob with no muscles and the inability to hunt; scientists fail to figure out how it eats, with some speculating it just sucks in whatever drifts by.

The blob-fish is an endangered species and close to extinction. While a possible key factor is because it’s commonly caught in bottom-trawling nets, it’s also hard to imagine any of them wanting to mate with each other.

No blob-fish has ever been caught alive and even if it was, it would need a tank with extremely high water pressure to keep it alive. You would have greater luck preserving a dead one, immersed in alcohol.

16. Dumbo octopus

This unusual specimen got its name because of hypnotically flapping its ear-like fins to propel themselves, similar to Disney’s infamous Dumbo.

© Flickr/NOAA Photo Library & Flickr/Henry Mestre

Humans don’t know much about the species since they’re hard to find, with specimens only recently being studied as recently far back as 1990.

Finding this octopus alive outside of its natural habitat is rare. The deep-sea creature’s environmental conditions are difficult to replicate, especially since they live at depths below 3,000 meters or deeper.

15. Pigbutt worm

The pigbutt worm, also known as the flying buttocks, is an annelid worm the size of a hazelnut and looks like, a pig’s butt.

© Roaring Earth

This species of marine worm is often found floating 1km below the ocean’s surface.

Scientists have never been able to identify any sexual organs when studying the worm, they are unsure if its larvae or an adult. Since we are unsure how they breed, the chances of seeing them in an aquarium are not likely, unfortunately.

14. Fangtooth

Fangtooths look like something from a horror movie with their disproportionately large, fang-like teeth yet are completely harmless to humans. The fish cannot close their mouth completely and scientists are unable to study the fangtooths behavior or mating preferences as they live in such extreme environments.

The fangtooth has only managed to survive in captivity for a few months. The high pressure needed for the deep-sea creature is difficult to replicate.

So, it’s not possible to see one of these alive.

13. Giraffe weevil

This unique insect gets its name for its enormously long neck, often used to fight for the opportunity to mate with a female.

© Wikipedia Commons/Axel Strauß

The species, native to Madagascar, was only discovered in 2008. With no known predators, the giraffe weevil isn’t considered threatened or endangered.

The reason we won’t see one however is that they have a specialized diet that’s hard to recreate. The giraffe weevil spends its entire life on a tree known as the “giraffe beetle tree”, feeding on the leaves of this tree and nothing else.

© Flickr/vil.sandi

12. Saola

This animal was discovered in north-central Vietnam back in 1992, the first large mammal new to science in over 50 years. The actual size of the population is a mystery; the animal is so rare to find in the wild.

© Flickr/Global Wildlife Conservation

In fact, trained scientists have never observed Saola’s in the wild so there’s inadequate data. With little information about the dietary requirements and environmental habitat of the Saola, there’s no chance of seeing one in captivity.

11. Javan Rhino

The Javan rhino has had nothing but bad luck, the most threatened of the five rhino species, their numbers have been dwindling for years.

© Monga Bay

The Javan rhino once lived all over Northeast India and Southeast Asia. However, due to heavy poaching, deforestation, and other factors, there are only 58-68 individuals left. The last time this rhino was exhibited in a zoo was over a century ago, unable to survive in captivity due to stress.

© Wikimedia Commons

Such an endangered species would be at high risk if moved to a zoo and the only way they’re studied these days is through fecal samples and camera traps.

10. Northern Sportive lemur

This species of Lemur is declining dramatically in population because of habit loss from deforestation and illegal hunting.

© Wikimedia Commons/ Frank Vassen

Another predator of this critically endangered creature is the Malagasy tree boa, which hunts the lemurs while they sleep in tree holes.

With so many threats, their estimated population is around a few hundred individuals. Captive breeding could greatly benefit in increasing numbers. However, their specialized diet of leaves has made attempts futile.

Any known attempts of captivity failed on average within one week of capture.

9. Billfishes

Billfish is a collective term to categorize fish with a long, bony, spear-shaped bill or snout. The swordfish has the longest bill, about one-third of its body length.

Billfish are high-strung and highly sensitive animals; even the touch of a net or hand is enough to cause the fish to die from stress. Though the fish are commonly hunted for food, none have ever been able to survive more than a few days in captivity.

Programs are have been implemented to catch and release billfish for study but even the process of catching them leaves them too traumatized to recover.

8. Swallows

These birds are highly adapted to aerial feeding; the only time they aren’t in the air is when they’re mating or sleeping, just like humans.

© Wikimedia Commons/Ken Thomas

Swallows are amazing acrobats during flight; swooping, circling, and skimming along still waters to catch prey.

The main reason why we don’t see these magnificent specimens in the zoo is that they develop stresses in any type of confinement and that they have to eat every 10-15 minutes.

7. Kakapo

The Kakapo shares a lot of similarities with the extinct dodo, a small flightless bird often hunted by either humans or other predators. The critically endangered species population started declining after the arrival of humans to New Zealand in the 19th century and the predatory animals they brought with them.

In 1990, there were only 50 birds left but this has improved to 154 individuals thankfully. Surprisingly, the Kakapo is the world’s heaviest parrot and only flightless species. Because they can’t really escape predators, the birds now live in semi-captivity on two separate islands, free of predators.

© Wikimedia Commons/Department of Conservation

Conservation efforts for this species are highly important so the chances of seeing them in a zoo aren’t possible as this would affect the recovery of their population.

6. Giant and colossal squid

Deep-sea animals such as the giant and colossal squid are unable to stay in captivity for a number of reasons. Aside from the large space required to swim around, squids tend to jet for a sudden burst of acceleration which poses a problem if they hit glass. Squids also have delicate skin that abrades very easily; not nearly as sturdy as fish scales.

© Flickr/dun_deagh

Theoretically, they would need a huge cylindrical tank that’s not transparent so they don’t hit a wall, which kind of defeats the purpose of seeing one in an aquarium. The tank has to have high water pressure because they live in the deep sea, adding to the complications. Finally, they’re very rare which is why we’ve never been able to secure a giant or colossal squid alive in captivity.

© Wikipedia/Momotarou2012

5. Mountain gorillas

If you’ve ever seen the award-winning movie “Gorillas in the Mist” then you’re probably accustomed to the plight of mountain gorillas.

© Wikipedia/Charles J Sharp

In the 60s and 70s, there were several attempts of capturing live gorillas to create a captive population. Many of the gorillas didn’t survive however with the reason why still remaining unclear. One theory is perhaps specific dietary needs or too much stress leading to death.

Many gorillas currently held captive in zoos are actually lowland gorillas that are able to flourish in captivity. These subspecies of gorilla are different from mountain gorillas because they usually stay in trees, prefer a flatter habitat, and are smaller in size.

© Wikimedia Commons/Cai Tjeenk Willink

Mountain gorillas tend to be more grey than brown and have more facial hair. There’s currently no mountain gorilla held in captivity but there are tour operators in Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC who allow a small number of tourists to visit their natural habitat.

4. Narwhale

Narwhales are like the unicorns of the sea with a huge protruding tusk coming out of their head.

© World Wildlife

A group of narwhales is called a ‘blessing’ which is the opposite if held in captivity. Attempts at capturing narwhales have resulted in the animals dying within several months. In fact, all narwhales ever kept in captivity died.

Two plausible reasons are that their long sensitive tusk poses an obstacle and that an aquarium wouldn’t be enough space causing distress in the animals.

3. Oarfish

The oarfish is the longest bony fish in the deep ocean but regardless of its size, we don’t know a great deal about them.

© Flickr/NOAA Photo Library

The larger species are considered game fish and are fished commercially on a small scale. Only one baby oarfish was caught alive and taken into captivity destined with a huge price tag in the marine aquarium industry.

© Reef Builders

The oarfish died roughly ten hours later after its acclimation. On rare occasions that they are caught, the fish is usually dead before being transported to somewhere else.

2. Platypus

The platypus is one of the weirdest animals in existence; a semi-aquatic mammal that lays eggs and has a poisonous spur on its hindfoot. Endemic to only Australia, it’s one of the few species of venomous mammals in the world.

© Wikimedia Commons/Wellcome Images

Now, the platypus is definitely something you would want to see in a zoo but why can’t you? Unfortunately, there are no platypuses in captivity outside of Australia. Three attempts were made to bring the animals to the Bronx zoo in the US with none living longer than 18 months.

© Twitter/The New York Times

The species are difficult to breed in captivity however there have been some successes. Platypuses are vulnerable to the effects of pollution and don’t acclimate well in an unfamiliar territory which could reasons why they are only based in Australia.

1. Great white shark

Although it would be an amazing spectacle in an aquarium, the great white shark just can’t flourish in a tank.

© Flickr/Elias Levy

The longest surviving great white shark in captivity lasted a mere 16 days despite many different institutions trying to help. The great white shark swims hundreds of kilometers over the span of a few days. The lack of freedom and exercise in a tank affects their contentment and mood.

The great white shark cannot hang around one area for long. They also refuse to be fed by humans which causes them to die from starvation. Great white sharks are apex predators; they need the thrill of the hunt and can’t survive on already dead fish.

Which of these exotic animals would you want to see if given the opportunity? Let me know in the comments below.

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