Exploring zoos has alwaysseemed to spark curiosity, in whether the role of zoos are as innocent as portrayedto the public. Many would argue that a cage is no place for a wild animal, yetinstead made to be an unwilling spectacle for the publics prying eyes.
Howeveraccording to specialists employed by these zoos, animals are no longer safe inthe wild…Chester Zoo for example,created in 1930 with a vision of ‘a zoo without bars’, it claimed to be one ofthe very first ethical zoos. Throughout the development of time, zoos have hadto create an income for themselves to improve the lives of these captiveanimals, and to develop many other aspects in their zoos. Despite “their popularity andplace in our recreational history, in recent years zoos have undergoneconsiderable change in both their structure and function” 1 to adapt to society. An example being, animals are not takenfrom the wild (as they were previously), they now have enhanced breedingprograms, therefore playing a part in conserving the endangered species, that struggleto survive in their own habitat. This breeding is analysed and the animalsinvolved are closely monitored (for their own safety), keeping these detailedrecords means that the zoos can prevent interbreeding, creating the nexthealthy generation of species.
In addition, breeding programs preventextinction, this conservation uses scientific evidence/individual studies tohelp identify and address many of the challenges the modern day, natural worldfaces. The threatened species gain reproductive success, due to informeddecisions, the programs become successful and it increases the chances ofreintroducing them to the wild. According to zoos themselves,there are four things that summarise roles of zoos; “recreation (habitats),education, research and conservation”3. There are certain zoos that specialise in different conservativeroles, for example, Chester Zoo specialises in biodiversity surveys andecological monitoring. These are key tools to provide information of thespecies and wildlife that need the most attention and monitoring. Wildlifehealth and wellbeing is an aspect taken very seriously by the conservationcommunity, many of the research projects taken out by the zoos are useful toinform and educate the impact of wildlife health to society. Zoos use a rangeof methods to ensure the best care of each species, as well as theinvestigation of diseases that may influence the species greatly in the wild.
Good welfare is standardised by BIAZA, British, Irish, Association of Zoos, andAquariums, they measure welfare on physical health, mental health, social life,enclosure space, and environmental enrichment. Each zoo must justify thecaptivity of each animal, e.g. critically endangered; they have to reach acertain criteria. As well as, wildlife healthand wellbeing, “conservationists seek ways to protect natural systems and healthe wounds of degraded systems” 2.Zoos must consider sustainable development, when taking on the role ofconservation; species such as some tropical monkeys are at risk ofextinction/decreasing numbers, due to human negligence. The increased loss ofhabitat has “increased rate of extinction, which calls for a more proactive andcoordinated response from the global conservation community” 4 Deforestation plays a key role inthis, clearing vast spaces to make room for Palm Oil plantations, thisunsustainable living forces action i.
e. zoo intervention. Almost “all wildlands and ecosystems are continuing to decline—and ever more rapidly. It isclear that the nature and aspirations of conservation activities must deal withthese realities” 2. The role of a zoo is not onlyjust to sustain the rapidly decreasing natural landscape and species at risk,it is to inspire the next generation of conservationists, to inform and excitepeople of the natural world they live in. This education ensures zoos will havea constant supply of visitors and people who are genuinely passionate aboutsustaining the planet. “They conclude that with more than 134 million visitorsa year, zoos are in a unique position to provide environmental education andconservation education to large numbers of people” 5.
At each habitat, there are unique ways of learning about theanimals, a way of combining fun for young children as well as incorporatingvital information to conserve the planet. Visitor and community engagementgives the zoo a chance to help the public understand the impact of the zoos work;many visitors may believe the animals on display are in distress due to thevast amount of visitors, especially for the high profile species (lions, tigersetc). Research has shown that many of the animals born into the zoo, are not affectedby the public, and the zoo makes sure there is some sort of peaceful shelterfor the animal. As these animals are captive, there is a worry that the animalsmay be severely stressed or react badly to the spotlight, the ones that wereborn into the zoo will not be fazed by the vast amount of people walkingthrough or past their home.Almost all zoos in the UK areregistered charities, with no individual benefit; the money gained fromvisitors is put back into the conservation of the animals. The charitable workof zoos does not end inside the zoo gates; they extend their research abroad toconservation projects across the world.
A critical feature of foreignconservation is the intervention of human-wildlife conflict; a community is indirect threat from an animal, or vice versa. This could be a threat to theirjob (farming) or their families’ safety, in most situations, the communityresort to harming the animal. An understanding of the species and community isessential to migrate the animal, or resolve the ecological situation. Concluding this essay, zooshave become essential to the conservation of these many species, that arebecoming scarcer as time progresses, extinction is a very real problem and zoostarget this problem extremely well. To educate and excite the public byphysically showing them the species is more important than informing themthrough television or documentaries. These zoos provide fundraising and help forthe animals in need, not just within the zoo but throughout the world and thehabitats abroad, as well as the ability to prevent diseases and study theanimals in depth.