I believe I’ve kind of touched on this in previous discussions, but there’s no harm in reiterating my opinion on the matter I suppose.
I’m going to be super pretentious here and quote the definition of ‘zoo’ before moving on:
“an establishment that maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public." - Oxford English Dictionary.
Indisputably the first two purposes outlined here - study and conservation - are important functions, and cannot be overlooked when considering the value of zoos. But they come at a price. A huge price. Animals are hard to maintain, and especially hard to breed. It takes a lot of resources and a lot of people to make breeding programmes work. That makes zoos a huge money sink.
Where do you get the funds to do research and conservation? The government is not going to provide them. Grants are unlikely to provide them. No, the only real source of funding for that kind of work comes from people. Here we must introduce that third function of a zoo - display to the public.
Fortunately for zoos, people are willing to pay rather a lot of money to see animals. People cursed with a child like the young me will even wind up paying rather a lot more than they would like to. Thus, zoos can fund their study and conservation by having a public interface.
And so you see there is a balance that must be struck. People pay to see big name animals, and those animals thereby pay for their own conservation as well as for the conservation of the lesser species also managed by the zoo.
It is in instances where the balance is not struck - where the zoos are not facilitating the study of their animals or contributing to their conservation, or are disproportionately concentrated on the public side of the scale, that I start to have problems with them. Often this comes with a failure to appreciate the requirements of the animals in their care, or a general lack of appropriate standards of hygiene and care. This is the typical pattern in developing countries, and it is these zoos that I have a problem with.
So to answer your question, zoos are highly variable. Some are fantastic, some are godawful. Zurich Zoo, for instance, is my favourite zoo in the world - it is truly excellent. Basel Zoo, on the other hand, is one of the worst zoos I have ever seen. The distance between the two doesn’t feel so much like 100 kilometres as 40 years. In theory, they are valuable and important facilities for education, research, and conservation. In practice, they can be these things, but are not always, and therein lies the problem with them.
In your opinion, would you consider zoos good or bad and why?
Artificial ‘misting system’ allows vanished toad to be released back into the wild
by Jeremy Hance
In 1996 scientists discovered a new species of dwarf toad: the Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis). Although surviving on only two hectares near the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania, the toads proved populous: around 17,000 individuals crowded the smallest known habitat of any vertebrate, living happily off the moist micro-habitat created by spray from adjacent waterfalls. Eight years later and the Kihansi spray toad was gone.
Disease combined with the construction of a hydroelectric dam ended the toads’ limited, but fecund, reign. However, before the toad population collapsed completely conservationists with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Bronx Zoo were able to establish a captive population of 499 frogs. Now, researchers are releasing a seed population of Kihansi spray toads back into their native habitat, but with one caveat: an artificial “misting system” is the only thing standing between the tiny amphibians and a second extinction.
“As long as the hydroelectric dam persists, the misting system will be needed in order to provide sufficient ‘spray meadow’ habitat at the base of Kihansi Falls for the single Kihansi Spray Toad population to persist,” Don Church the President and Director of Wildlands Conservation with Global Wildlife Conservation told mongabay.com…
(read more: MongaBay)
(photos: T - Rhett Butler; B - Global Wildlife Conservation)