Why We Need Zoos

In May, a young boy climbed over several barriers and found himself in a gorilla habitat. We have all seen the footage, where a 450 pound male gorilla proceeds to drag the child through water. Zookeepers at the Cincinnati Zoo made the tough decision to shoot Harambe, the gorilla involved, to protect the child. The Internet was outraged. My Facebook feed was suddenly filled with individuals giving their opinions about the situation and speaking as if they were zookeepers. As a zoo supporter and conservation enthusiast, I do believe officials at the Cincinnati Zoo made the right decision. This gorilla was extremely large and strong, and also a wild animal. Keepers could not predict his actions, and had to act in the best interests of the child in danger. However, I am also not an expert in this matter. Read the full story here.

This situation, and many others, have led to many people questioning the ethics of zoos. Some were very quick to argue that Harambe and other gorillas should never be kept in captivity. I know this is a somewhat controversial concept, but I want to take this opportunity to express why I believe that we do need zoos. 

Institutions that are accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) share a similar mission. Many zoos in the United States are actively involved in conservation programs. They take part in breeding programs with the goal of being able to release animals into the wild. The San Diego Zoo has bred and released over 350 Arabian onyx in the last forty years. This program is just one example of a successful breeding initiative. Other zoos have similar programs and place researchers in communities around the world so they can work and learn where the animals will live. When you step foot in a zoo, you can find information about how that institution is involved in conservation. Zookeepers that you encounter will be thrilled to answer questions about the animals and their efforts. Visit your zoo's website to find other information about their programs to aid in conservation.

The opportunities for education are endless at zoos. Many offer classes and other programs to engage visitors of all ages. Visiting a zoo allows children to see how real the animals they learn about are. It is one thing to watch a movie or see photos of an elephant, but to stand a few yards away and see one in real life has a different impact on people. Each habitat usually features information about the animals that call it home. You can find out where they live in the wild, if they are endangered, and other fun facts. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums even offers educational resources for schools.

When you visit the zoo, you are able to momentarily escape the real world. Zoos truly are a magical place that offer the ability to encounter animals from across the world. If there is one thing that you take away from a trip to a zoo, it should be an appreciation for wildlife. I know that some people go to a zoo and just look at the animals. However, I would argue that simply admiring a species at a zoo makes an individual more likely to take action when given the opportunity. This is especially important for young children. While they are unable to grasp the environmental issues that our world faces, they can understand that wild animals are magnificent. As they age, they will be able to make choices that impact the world around them. I can only hope that they will choose to take actions to protect wildlife and conserve natural resources.

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