Since I was a child, I have always loved going to the zoo, aquariums and animal parks; seeing animals I will most likely never get to see in the wild. Though I do find it sad to see these amazing creatures in enclosures when they should be in the wild, I realise the importance of a good zoo (I am aware there are bad zoos), and why it is important that we should go. If you are not aware of all that zoos do, hopefully, this blog post will help.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need zoos to educate ourselves about wild animals, instead going on safari seeing lions, elephants and giraffes in their natural habitat. But for people who can’t afford that, we visit zoos. We watch cheetahs being fed chunks of meat and exclaim over the similarities between apes and humans.
Ethically, zoos can’t win. It is always cruel to cage wild animals for our entertainment and even our education. And zoos shouldn’t oversell their ‘preserving-endangered species’ mantra either, even when they are dedicated to the conservation of various species. There are also many bad zoos around the world, with animals being kept in bad conditions, showing there is always room for improvement, and making zoos, in general, become a target about animal welfare.
If you are completely against animals in captivity, there is little room for a discussion about why we should still go to zoos, but there are some arguments that can be said for zoos.
There are several educational benefits of zoos, primarily that they create a conversation about the animals. Whether we visit with children or other adults, there is something to talk about with every animal – where they come from, what they eat, their natural habitat, their social behaviour and so on.
Encouraging the conversation, whether between family and friends or teachers and parents, is what gets people interested in these animals. Many zoos also offer talks and personal tours, allowing visitors to learn more information from the keepers. Talks carried out at feeding time are often best, giving you the chance to see these animals up close. Zoos always cater to children, offering hands-on experiences and activities for them, which accommodate their curious nature.
Also, one of the joys of zoos is that it makes these animals real, and makes us love them. We can be awed by seeing animals in high definition on Planet Earth, but seeing them in real life, albeit with a fence in between, shows us that they smell, form relationships, make noise, and also sleep – a lot.
A good zoo provides care and protection to the animals they keep. Saying that huge numbers of species are becoming endangered and extinct across the world is no exaggeration; it’s the sad truth. Some of these animals dying out have been sudden and unexpected and sometimes too late to do anything about. Zoos protect against a species going extinct, as a species protected in captivity creates a backup population (essentially) against a population going extinct in the wild.
In zoos, they are relatively safe and can be bred to provide a foundation population, and currently, a good number of species exist only in captivity (New Guinea Singing Dog, Guam kingfisher and Kihansi spray toad are a few). There are also some animals that can only be found in the wild as zoos have reintroduced them, or captive breeding has boosted the wild populations. Without these efforts from zoos and wildlife parks, there would be fewer species alive today than what we are still clinging on to.
Though reintroduction successes are few, the numbers are increasing for those that have been reintroduced, which does show the value of captive breeding. But of course, more needs to be done outside of zoos, such as cracking down hard on poaching and illegal animal trading.
If we are to save the planet and everything in it; wild animals, plants, and ecosystems, we need to know how to do it. Zoos help to fund the research and study of the animals and also provide a way for people to study them with fewer risks, learning how they live and act. Studying the captive animals means less risk and fewer variables which can produce an actual change in the wild with fewer problems.
For instance, knowing about the doses for anaesthetics can help with capturing and moving at-risk animals in the wild. They do this with cheetahs in Africa to bolster their population, and it also gives experience for handling these dangerous animals. The research carried out in zoos makes a huge difference to conservation in the wild, with less human-animal conflict.
With all the ongoing threats to the environment that are happening on a worldwide scale, it makes going to zoos as an essential part of the process. It is not just in terms of helping the zoos in their protecting and breeding of the animals, but to learn about them; helping preserve the wild populations, educating the public, encouraging an environmentally conscious narrative and creating interest in the amazing animals that populate our world.
After looking into it more, I do think zoos are worth visiting, not just for the animals, but helping them fund conservation and research efforts, though I like to think the world will have no need for them in the future. What are your thoughts about zoos? Do you enjoy them, or find them a little heartbreaking? There are many around the UK – which ones do you think are best, what animals do you love seeing the most (it’s the big cats and wolves for me!)? – let me know in the comments or via my social media channels!