Visiting the local Zoo is a treasured part of any great childhood and for most people, it is the first and only experience they will have of being up close and personal with some of the world’s most beautiful and rarest animals.
Yet in recent years, Zoo’s have been met with some controversy, with welfare concerns being highlighted repeatedly by the mainstream media. But are these isolated cases, or are Zoo’s inherently bad places for animals to live? In this post, we will explore the main pros and cons of modern-day Zoo’s and demystify some of the most common questions people have.
The Main Pros of Zoos
Firstly, we will discuss the major benefits of Zoo’s officially termed zoological garden and explore why they first came about almost 2,000 years ago and why they are still relevant today.
#1 Educational Tool
When people visit the Zoo, they are not only witnessing living and breathing animals for entertainment purposes, but also learn a lot of valuable information too. Modern zoos often provide tours, information points and actively seek to educate and teach the next generation of children the importance and value of conservation and biodiversity. Of course, individuals and children can read about animals and conservation in books, but actively engaging with animals allows them to truly empathize with their plight.
#2 Conservation of Endangered Animals
Perhaps, it’s a little obvious, but Zoo’s offer a safe haven for endangered animals to live and on many occasions thrive. This is of paramount importance for some of the world’s most threatened animal species and allows leading experts and researchers to discover their habits, breeding patterns and as a result learn how human’s can help them survive, breed and therefore increase their dwindling numbers.
#3 Economic Boost for the Local Community
As well as offering a safe haven for some of the world’s most majestic creatures, Zoo’s are also local and sometimes national attractions. This means that Zoo’s are often a magnet for families, school trips and other individuals wanting to spend their time and money in the local area. This doesn’t just benefit the Zoo itself, but it also benefits local businesses, creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.
#4 Halt Extinction Events
Zoos don’t just work independently to help animals they home and rescue. They also work in harmony with other Zoo’s throughout the world, as well as Safari parks, in order to organize breeding programs for some of the world’s rarest animals. This is very important for animals that are currently threatened in their natural habitats, but it is absolutely essential for animals on the verge of extinction.
For illustration, if the numbers are drop so low within a certain species in the wild, the chance of them finding each other and then breeding is extremely unlikely. Therefore, in these circumstances, zoos play an important role and some great examples of animals saved from extinction include the Arabian Oryx and the Puerto Rican Parrot.
#5 Veterinary Care
Zoo’s typically had on-site medical and care facilities for all animals on site. This means that if they experience any health concerns, they can be assisted by vets almost immediately. This is extremely important for some of the world’s rarest animals, whose own survival and the survival of their offspring is vital. As well as providing breeding programs, animals can be regularly assessed for parasites, infectious diseases, and cancers.
#6 Professional Training
Each animal species requires an in-depth knowledge to help them; this includes medical, health, dietary and behavioral knowledge. In order to provide such high-level of assistance and expertise to such a varied amount of animals requires professionals and veterinary experts to undertake specialist training. Therefore, Zoos offer a unique opportunity for undergraduates and trainees to study and gain practical knowledge of specific animals, which would be almost impossible in the wild.
For this reason, it is commonplace for Zoos to work with local educational institutions, such as Colleges and Universities. By working in conjunction, they can ensure the next generation of experts are well prepared to help some of the world’s most vulnerable animals succeed in the battle for survival.
The Main Cons of Zoos
Now that we have highlighted some of the main advantages of Zoo’s, it’s equally important to realize that they are by no means a perfect environment. Even though the importance of conservation cannot be overstated, it’s important to be aware of the limitations and failures of modern Zoo’s.
#1 Ethics of Captive Animals
Many wild animals have evolved to thrive in a certain environment, habitat, and climate and not suited to the confines and containment of captivity. Unfortunately, even though Zoos often try their best to mimic a specific species natural habitat sometimes it has little impact on their behavior and well being. For example, an Orca in the wild can survive as long as 100 years, yet in captivity, they typically don’t reach 30 years of age. This illustrates that the Zoo environment does not always succeed and there are many reasons behind this.
#2 Captive Offspring are Often Dependant
Although one of the main aims of zoos is to have successful breeding programs for some of the world’s rarest animals, the resulting offspring doesn’t always result in successful integration in the wild. Many animals born and raised in captivity fail to successfully make the transition from captive to wild environment, meaning that sometimes there is no choice but to keep them in the Zoo for the remainder of their lives.
#3 Financial Problems
In recent years, it’s become apparent that many popular zoos have been failing financially, which in turn has a knock on effect to the health and welfare of captive animals. Staff shortages and limited budgets often mean healthy animals have to be euthanized or sold to other Zoo’s.
This reliance on a constant inflow of money is also a constant burden for modern Zoo’s who always have to prioritize their finances. For example, the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle is one of the most popular Zoo’s in the US, yet in 2015, their expenses exceeded their incoming revenue.
#4 Altered Animal Behaviour
Some animals are just not built for Zoo’s, particularly animal species with certain behaviors that Zoo’s don’t cater for, such as hibernation and migratory animals. For instance, Elephants are often the biggest animals within Zoo’s and many argue their enclosures are simply too small and since they have to resist their natural instinct to migrate; this can result in behavioral issues such as aggression.
#5 Health Problems can Develop
Sometimes the measures Zoo’s take in an attempt to mimic a natural habitat just doesn’t work. A natural habitat is also related to climate, so some animals can develop problems in some locations that can get relatively cold in comparison to their natural habitat.
For instance, a polar bear that is used to arctic temperatures can find it extremely difficult to cope with heat and humidity. Yet, some Zoo’s still seem to put profit before well being of their animals and animals such as Polar bears continue to suffer in some Zoos.
#6 Some zoos are Profit Only Zoo’s
Unfortunately, for some Zoo’s, conservation and breeding programs to save some of the world’s most endangered animals are little more than a marketing tactic to get customers through their doors. Even though many Zoos claim to have a mission statement that lives up to an ethical and moral viewpoint most people would agree on, behind the scenes there is very little effort made in this direction.
Having said that, it’s important to note that many Zoos’ do make an active effort in the mission to save and conserve species, but many do not. Instead, they partake in the sale of animals for profit and their bottom line is profit over animal welfare.