What You Should Know About Zoos.

Why You Should Care About Zoos

People are often defensive about zoos. They see them as prisons for animals and believe the animals should be free in the wild. A lot of people also believe that the animals are taken from the wild, which is simply false. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before and may even think it yourself.

What plenty of people don’t know is that zoos are not only out there for profit. While they do make money, as any company does, they put a lot of their money and resources to conservation efforts and improving the lives of the animals they have.

As a zoological science major, I’m learning the necessities it takes to be a highly successful zookeeper. There’s a lot of work that goes into zoos. Also, they are not as awful as people seem to believe.

Zoos Provide Enrichment for the Animals

Zoos work very hard and long hours working on animal welfare and different ways to make the lives of the animals in captivity better. Psychological enrichment is always a priority along with physical enrichment. These can be very natural looking, such as vines or stumps, to very artificial such as plastic toys and paper chains. Both types offer stimulation for the animal to give them a happier life. Majority of zoos have high standards of animal welfare and are continuously trying to improve it in new and innovative ways.

Zoo animal enrichment
Polar bear enjoying ball toy enrichment.

Zoos Save Species

Zoos have saved species from extinction. This is simply a fact. With their extensive breeding programs and strict guidelines, several zoos have brought animals back from the brink of extinction.

Zoo Conservation
The Golden Lion Tamarin

The Golden Lion Tamarin is an example of this. By the 1970s, due to habitat loss and fragmentation along with collection for the pet trade, there were less than 300 golden lion tamarins left in with wild. Because of such low numbers there were listed as critically endangered; however, due to breeding efforts of the National Zoo and other zoos, they were upgraded endangered in 2003. Their wild population has risen in the past years. There’s estimated to be 3,200 left in the wild and also 500 within zoos around the globe. Approximately one-third of the wild individuals are descendants of golden lion tamarins raised in human care. While their level endangerment has gone down, they are still endangered because of their small, fragmented habitat. With the help of human intervention in zoos, the extinction of this species was avoided.

 

Zoos Educate the Public

 

Not only are zoos a major part of conservation efforts, one of their main goals is to educate the public. Ever see all of those signs strewed about the zoo around enclosures and every turn? Those are to help you and all the guest learn something while exploring the zoo. But signs aren’t the only educational things zoos offer. Let’s be honest, less than 10% of guests actually read the signs, so if education is a major goal, there must be other methods. Many zoos focus on educating future generations by providing summer camps and classes for young children and teenagers to offer them the opportunity to learn more about animals and the work zoos do.

Ball Python with Zoo education.
A child learning about reptiles.

 

The undeniable fact is that many people simply go to the zoo to look at cute and amazing animals. If this is your reason for going, that’s great. You should know that there are actually several species that only exist within zoos because they have gone extinct in the wild. The California Condor is one of these.

Overall, I truly hope you give zoos a chance since you now can see them from a different perspective. There are plenty of good zoos out there, but there are still bad ones that need to be improved, but just because not 100% is great doesn’t mean you should shame them all. If you want to visit a zoo that is put to high standards and is always going to be good, visit an AZA-accredited zoo. The zoos that get accredited must be inspected and evaluated in order to keep their accreditation. They also are required to follow strict guidelines about where animals come from and also are required to participate in breeding programs. I encourage you to go out and explore your local zoos, maybe you’ll appreciate them more and learn something new while you’re there.

 

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