Zoos are a controversial conversation topic especially amongst animal lovers as the internet helps to fuel ignorance around their true role amongst wildlife conservation. Anyone who knows me will know I love the zoo with a passion, however with a patchy history of caged animals, zoos often face scrutiny as to their motives and methods. Despite my love for zoos I will admit that no zoo is perfect, you can find a flaw in any collection of captive animals but visiting the zoo yesterday I fell back in love with everything that is perfect about zoos.
When talking about the success of zoological collections it would be all too obvious to point to their successful captive breeding programmes or the fact that a host of species actually owe their existence to zoos; from Przewalski’s Horse to Partula Snails many species would be gone for good if it weren’t for the hard work of zookeepers.
The Aspinall Foundation are amongst a range of zoos in Britain which epitomise what is so brilliant about these institutions. Not only are they committed to breeding a range of species for insurance populations but many of these individuals find themselves being reintroduced to the wild. One example of their commitment to conservation was their decision to reintroduce a Western Lowland Gorilla family group in 2013.
Of course as I previously said many zoos across Britain undertake vital conservation work in the countries and with the species which need it most, all of which is well documented. However what I love most is a zoos ability to inspire. Just as enjoyable as watching an animal expressing natural behaviour is watching the public’s reacting to it.
I love David Attenborough documentaries; they really can’t be faulted and indeed they have incredible power to inspire people to care for their planet or indeed young people to become conservationists. But there is nothing more powerful than the close up encounters a zoo can offer.
This weekend I was stalked by a tiger as I walked along the enclosure and it was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life even though the animal was behind a fence. I was then lucky enough to watch European Wolves fighting over a chicken and got to wonder what it would be like if rewilding organisations had their way and reintroduced these incredible animals to the Scottish Highlands.
It’s not just about seeing the animals. Zoos are about the magic of a Tapir crashing through the woodlands making a strange noise and the realisation that they can run really fast. It’s about the whole sensory involvement; hearing the sounds of a wild dog crunching the skull of its food, feeling the eyes of the big cat watching you, its an experience you can’t gain from your television set.
Obviously in an ideal world everyone would prefer to see these amazing species in their natural habitat undisturbed however we do not live in an ideal world. The world we reside in has been so altered by mankind that it requires mankind’s management to sustain ecosystems and unfortunately zoos form a part of that management. But whilst captive populations are a necessity they can form a vital platform for inspiring the next generation of conservationists.
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