CNN Photos

Wildlife ‘behind bars’ at the zoo?

As a vegetarian for more than 20 years, photographer Viviana Peretti is no stranger to animal welfare concerns. She protested bullfights while living in Colombia and spoke out against fur coats and animal testing in her native Italy.

“I always wanted to do a story about how people relate, or rather don’t relate, with animals,” she says. “How we impose our power on other beings and turn them into objects of our entertainment.”

Peretti, 39, recently completed a series on animals in captivity at the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium. She visited the exhibits at least twice a week for three months starting in January.

During the winter, many of the animals are kept in indoor enclosures, some of which have walls painted to resemble their natural habitats.

“I don't think we need to be animal specialists in order to see that an animal that walks nervously or depressed in a concrete room with a diorama of a landscape is not happy, and that is not the life it should have,” Peretti says.

At 265 acres, the Bronx Zoo is home to more than 600 species from around the world. Another 300 species can be found at the New York Aquarium off the Coney Island boardwalk.

The Wildlife Conservation Society runs both facilities and emphasizes its preservation and education efforts aimed at protecting wildlife and helping humans better understand animals. It also maintains that it has an “unwavering commitment to the health and wellbeing” of its animals.

Peretti says its goals can be better met by phasing out captivity, focusing on habitat protection, and raising awareness through documentaries and online resources.

Before committing herself to this project, Peretti had never stepped foot in a zoo. She was always opposed to the idea but knew she wanted to report on the issue.

“As photojournalists and documentary photographers we take positions and we denounce, hoping that our photographs can contribute to promote change,” she says.

- Brett Roegiers, CNN