@liceham my anger in this reply is in no way aimed at you! I am super grateful you gave me a reason to write down some of my thoughts on this subject, and I love that you’re informing your own opinions. I think you’re great!
I’m really sorry this took me so long to reply to; I have a lot of feelings on this subject and I wanted to make sure I expressed all my points well.
I like your use of the phrase “low-key anti-zoo” because I feel like it sums up the feelings of a vast majority of people sort of 40 and under (although my favorite is “I don’t believe in zoos”. It’s a zoo, not fucking Narnia). I think the “zoos are bad” mentality has become part of our cultural consciousness, something that we absorb as truth in our childhood or adolescence and then never question as adults who are capable of informing our own opinions. I don’t blame people for having low-key anti-zoo feelings, though. Zoos in America were terrible places until not too long ago, and I feel like the Animal Rights movement did great things in bringing animal welfare into the public eye. Unfortunately, I feel like the majority of people who tell me they “don’t believe in zoos” generally don’t know why they have those feelings. They can point to one or two broader topics like, “wild animals should be wild” or “animals aren’t meant to be entertainment”, but they usually can’t clarify beyond those basic points, and they usually haven’t bothered to inform themselves about what zoos are doing in terms of conservation, animal care and outreach programs. And that makes me mad, because usually people tell me they don’t like zoos AFTER they find out that I’ve been a zookeeper my entire life, and that’s really shitty because it’s like they are telling me they don’t like me and everything I’ve worked for, and that they know more about zoos and animal care than I do. And they don’t. They just have this opinion that they’ve grabbed out of concoction of naked celebrity PETA ads, shittily-sourced internet articles and propaganda-ish “documentaries” (I’m looking at you, Blackfish), and they’ve never bothered to research anything to inform that opinion.
ANYWAY. You wanted to know why zoos are important. And there are a lot of different things zoos do that are important. First, let me clarify that I am talking only about Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos that are located in America, because these are the only zoos I have experience working in. AZA is this highest standard in exotic animal care, and any facility housing animals for public observation should be accredited by them. If they are not AZA accredited, they are probably not a good place for wild animals to be. For the record, all of the “wildlife sanctuaries” and “animal reserves” in America are not AZA accredited institutions. Because they are not open to the public, these sanctuaries only have to comply with USDA standards, which are a LOT less strict than AZA standards. Which is why it’s frustrating when people tell me they don’t like zoos and then, in the same breath, tell me they think all zoo animals should be moved to “sanctuaries”. The standards at these places are lower, they are usually under-funded and under-staffed, and since they aren’t open to the public it’s a lot easier for them to get away with sub-standard animal care. Just because the word “sanctuary” sounds more PC than “zoo” does not mean it’s a better place for animals to live. (If you’re interested, here are the USDA requirements for housing exotic animals and here are the AZA standards.)
So: things that zoos do that are good. The Species Survival Plan (SSP) is a great example. AZA institutions are literally attempting to save endangered and threatened species via SSP. How this works: since all AZA institutions are sort of networked through AZA, the SSP can keep track of how many animals (let’s use black rhinos for this example) are living in AZA zoos. They keep a studbook, which lets them trace bloodlines of each individual black rhino at any given zoo. This means that the SSP can see that the Fort Worth Zoo has a male black rhino whose genetics are not over-represented in the current AZA black rhino population (basically, that he isn’t related to most of the other rhinos in captivity). They can also see that Zoo Atlanta has a female black rhino who is also genetically valuable, and is now of breeding age. So the SSP will call Fort Worth Zoo and tell them to send their male black rhino to Zoo Atlanta so the two rhinos can attempt to breed naturally (which, btw, they totally did and the result was something so painfully cute I could not help but vomit rainbows upon its tiny head).
Which, hurray, increases the population of genetically diverse black rhinos by one! And when there are only about 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild, every little bit helps. If the rhinos don’t breed naturally, the SSP can coordinate artificial insemination so the valuable genetics aren’t lost. They do this because zoos very rarely participate in wild animal capture anymore, so the gene pool for these species is limited to what already exists in zoos. What I mean is, the majority of the animals you are seeing in zoos (with the exception of some of the more long-lived animals, like elephants or great apes) were never wild. They are not pining for the fjords. They were born into captivity. And that is because the SSP is very careful to not let the gene pool of captive animals get muddied (sometimes they will trade with international zoos that have different bloodlines). AZA does not want to deplete wild animal populations to fill their zoos for horrible sticky children to throw their shoes at. Here is the AZA animal acquisition policy.
Another thing that zoos do that is great is reintroducing species back into the wild to boost in situ populations. This can be really difficult because, as I said before, most zoo animals are born in captivity and have no idea how to be a wild animal. Anti-zoo folk often say that all animals in zoos should be returned to the wild, but even if environment destruction, poaching, climate change etc weren’t factors, the majority of zoo animals would die painful, agonizing deaths if they were magically spirited into the wild. Animals born in captivity to parents that were born in captivity do not have the survival skills to make it in the wild. They have never been hungry, or cold, or hunted. They would die. So reintroducing captive animals is hard, but AZA zoos do accomplish it. Here are a few examples.
Another reason why zoos are important is the phenomenal work they do for conservation. I don’t know why, but a lot of people who oppose zoos and think they should be abolished don’t seem to participate in much conservation work. It’s like all they care about is getting animals out of zoos, and once they’re out…those animals are on their own. They will protest that orangutans should not be captive but they continue to buy products that contain palm oil, even though deforestation for palm oil plantations is killing off wild populations of orangutans by the thousands. Orangutans have lost about 80% of their habitat in the last 20 years, and are often run over by farming equipment, buried alive or even set on fire. We need to be fighting to keep habitats safe and sustainable before we start attempting to shut down zoos which are, in so many cases, the only home left to ENTIRE SPECIES. Zoos, zookeepers and AZA do a ton of conservation work, hoping to forestall the inevitable extinction of the animals that we love.
I am incredibly biased on this subject, so I will only talk about it briefly. Another less-known aspect of zoos is the AMAZING care they take of their animals. It seems so obvious to me, but so many people talk about animal abuse in zoos on a level that I have never seen. I have worked at four different AZA accredited institutions, and while there have been some bad moments and some bad people, the overall standard of care is incredible and better than what you give to your domestic pets, I guarantee you. Zoo animals are taken care of by top notch staff who have worked for years in the field. They eat diets that are designed for optimum nutrition and body condition. They are taken care of by world-class veterinary teams which are either on site or on call 24-7. They have huge teams of people who are there to make those animal’s lives as wonderful, comfortable and interesting as is physically possible in a captive setting. Enrichment is a (relatively new) concept that is slowly getting traction in the public consciousness, so I’ll go over it a bit here. Enrichment is a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing animal welfare. Blah blah jargon jargon, basically enrichment is anything that stimulates an animal’s brain and makes life more interesting. Enrichment can be toys, it can be puzzle feeders, it can be training sessions, it can be cuddling, it can be interaction with other animals, it can be scent and sounds and even television. And it is absolutely mandatory. Every animal. In an AZA zoo. Gets enriched. Believe me, if you see an animal performing a stereotypical behavior in a zoo (pacing, swaying), that animal’s caretakers are aware of the situation and are doing everything they can to change that animal’s thought patterns and engage it in something more positive. Listen: zookeepers love these animals. They are highly skilled professionals at the top of their field. Some of them have their Master’s or Doctorate, and they are still doing back-breaking physical labor, in the heat or cold, covered in filth, for what is basically a nickel and a peanut. And usually the peanut gets fed out. These people do more in a morning to increase quality of life for these animals than most people who “don’t believe in zoos” do in their entire lives. Reblogging an article from the In Defense of Animals website (such a bastion of sane, fact-based reporting) does not make you a hero. Working overnight during a cold snap throwing buckets of hot water over your hippos so their skin doesn’t get dried out does.
Zoos are also important for education and outreach. People can’t become engaged in and passionate about saving animals that they’ve never heard of. It is so, so, so important that people understand that animals are living creatures with rights and a will to live. It is important that people understand that animals need a place on this planet. Seeing these animals up close can touch people much more easily than seeing them in a newspaper or on T.V. The next time you go to a zoo, do me a favor? Pick one exhibit and spend 30 minutes to an hour just watching that one exhibit. Watch the way the animals interact with each other, or their environment, or you. Watch their body language, watch the way their ears flick when they hear a noise, watch how they manipulate their toys or eat their food. Listen to them. Smell them. Try to figure out what they’re thinking. Understand that they are living, breathing creatures that are fighting to survive just like we are. Try to find compassion and empathy for a creature that is so Other to you. If you can find that understanding, then take your zoo antipathy into the field and work towards making a safe space for these animals in their own habitat. Don’t tell me you don’t believe in zoos unless you are actively working towards restoring natural habitats, because right now animals in zoos have nowhere else to go. Their homes are destroyed or unsafe. If you don’t like animals in zoos, then think of animals in zoos as a stop gap. Think of zoos as an Ark, sheltering animals from a storm of human greed and ignorance until the world is made safe for them again.
I guess that’s the most important thing zoos do: They keep animals alive. And until the rest of the world starts doing the same, people should be down on their knees in thanks for that good work.
"I don’t believe in zoos." Well, let me tell you something: zoos have stopped believing in you, too. You can help or you can shut up.
if you’d told me sooner you had a film paper I would’ve helped
I should have considered this. Alas, I do not always live up to my potential level of intelligence.
If someone wants to give me the motivation to write this film paper that is already overdue I would much appreciate
my sexuality: pictures of the lotr cast dorking about in full costume
when you drop something but grab it before it hits the ground
But what was the hot sauce for???
I guess you could say it was for the heat of the moment
Every pet owner should read this. Clients screaming, threatening, and demanding happens all too often. Vets are often targets for animal “rescues” and those that work for them. Truly a terrible situation.
There is a puppy playing in a ball pit
You all need this on your dash :D
EVERYONE needs a puppy playing in a ball pit on their dash.