Hopefully you’ve read my blogs, Zoos and Aquariums Saving Animals, and Research; Not Just for Research Papers. It is my heartfelt opinion that zoos are not only relevant in today’s society, but that are absolutely necessary. The tremendous amount of work and monetary resources that zoos and aquariums put into animals, and their habitats, shows the importance of conservation and animal well-being. These institutions have the very important job of creating future conservation biologist, veterinarians, and recyclers. Every kid that walks into a zoo or aquarium is someone who can hear the message about sustainability, and what everyone can do to create a better life for future generations, and the animals we share this planet with. Zoo and aquarium visitors leave inspired to take direct conservation action.
Zoos and aquariums strive to evolve, develop and transform as science, and public perception change. Institutions have turned to a message of education and conservation. Carl Hagenbeck came up with modern zoo exhibition in the late 1800s. He went away from the traditional bars, and made the exhibits similar to the animal’s natural habitat. His forethought led to advances from collectionism to more natural social groupings. As recently as the 1970’s, zoos held animals in extremely small spaces, and animals were used for entertainment with little regard for their own welfare.
With what many consider the 6th great extinction, humans have reduced or destroyed plants and animals habitats. Because of this, zoos and aquariums have become custodians of numerous species. Many facilities also have the added duty of rehabbing and reintroducing animals back into the wild. Sea World, and a few other aquariums, have teams devoted to rescuing wild animals and either returning them to the wild or keeping them at their institution for medical evaluation. Many animals that are extinct in the wild, are only alive today because of zoos and aquariums.
Zoos and aquariums also use their power and influence to protect or create laws that conserve endangered species. The AZA contributes more money to research and conservation than any other world group besides the United States government. Habitat protection is an area that is greatly funded by zoos and aquariums across the world. Many of the larger institutions have biologist that are on their payroll who live in areas where the research in being conducted. The organization doesn’t gain financially from this, but it shows how committed they are to conservation.
Some make the argument that the experience of a visit to the zoo can be replaced by the internet, television or film. I think there is no substitute for an affordable, up-close encounter with the dynamic living world that the zoo, or aquarium can offer. A day at the zoo or aquarium is more family-friendly, less costly, complicated, or time consuming than an international expedition. More people visit zoos and aquariums each year than attend all 3 professional sports combined. I cannot think of any other institution that more realistically or more powerfully declares the values of the nature world.