In Defense Of Zoos

There are few of us who don’t have fond memories of visiting the zoo as children. After all, what kind of child doesn’t love seeing new and exotic animals? For many of us, zoos were a place of wonder and discovery, places where our childhood selves could learn about and get a first-hand glimpse of animals that we wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity to encounter.

It is sad then that for many of us, this image doesn’t last into adulthood when we can’t help but be aware of how unnatural the zoo environment is and how the animals have no choice about their surroundings. A lot of adults, both individually and through groups such as PETA, insist that visiting a zoo is incompatible with being a lover of animals. As a result, many adults end up feeling guilty about indulging their curiosity in these places.

However, many of us believe that, while there are some very important ethical concerns and debates to be had regarding animal welfare, by working with animal rights groups and other experts we can design zoos that provide a safe and comfortable habitat for animals while educating people about conservation and environmentalism.

Education

Educating people, particularly children, about the world around us is always a noble and worthwhile goal. While children will learn about other countries and the different ecosystems around the world as part of their schooling, this is often very abstract. A child can be taught about the existence of poachers and the threat that they pose to lions, tigers, and other such animals, but these lessons are much more effective when the child can actually see a real lion in front of them.

As well as learning about the different wildlife that exists around the world, zoos are a great way to educate visitors about the ways that people coexist with different animals. For example, the average person only has a basic grasp on the steps and processes involved in conservation initiatives. By teaching people about the kinds of methods that are successfully used in conservation efforts, we can show them how easy it is to contribute to the efforts themselves, even if only in a small way.

Only Chance to See

It is a very sad fact of the modern world that animal populations in some areas are being devastated by human activity. Whether animals are hunted directly for meat or other resources, or their habitat is threatened by human activity and climate change, there are a great many species that most people will never see, even in their usual habitat.

Allowing people to see these animals isn’t just about entertainment. Various studies show that if people, particularly children, see an animal live in front of them, then they will care much more about its plight and will retain information they are given at a much greater rate.

Breeding

For more common animals, zoos are sometimes the only places where endangered or shy species can be seen in infancy. For example, echidnas are very shy animals and therefore it is hard to find a baby echidna in the wild.

By securely housing endangered species and breeding them in captivity, we can ultimately use them to ‘seed’ the development of a colony in their natural habitat.

When zoos are done badly they can be cruel and depressing places, but when done properly they are places of wonder and discovery that can make a real difference to our conservation efforts as a species.

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