“Zoos have a huge role to play in education and protection of our vulnerable wildlife” – Professor Tim Flannery, prominent environmentalist and Zoos SA Ambassador. In recent years the importance of zoos has been recognised.
They are a valuable asset to our society because of the role they play in education and awareness for animals and the breeding programs that have been formed to fight possible extinction. Due to the high standards of animal care in well managed zoos, it can now be a satisfactory, comfortable and positive environment not just for us, but for animals too.
Humans have the responsibility of looking after our animals, and in an ever changing world, zoos play a key role in educating people and raising awareness for the animals. “There is an urgent need to speak on behalf of those animals that can’t speak for themselves and to increase public awareness of these issues.” – Conservation Ark, Adelaide Zoo. Zoos offer programs and activities for school and community groups.
These enable school children and the public to learn about animals and wildlife conservation. Zoos also sponsor or create various conservation programs and campaigns for both the environment and for animals. Some campaigns run by Zoos Victoria are Don’t Palm Us Off, Act4Nature, Seal The Loop, They’re Calling On You and Beads For Wildlife.
All of these aim to protect different species whilst promoting their plight and asking the general public for support. Therefore, the education and awareness that zoos give people is vital to saving endangered species.
Due to the inhumane acts made by humans towards animals and their habitats, many animals are facing extinction. Thankfully, zoos and their breeding programs provide hope that this will not occur. When a species is endangered in the wild, the breeding programs in captivity provide hope for future preservation of the species.
In some cases, breeding in captivity programs can lead to the return of animals to the wild. For example, Perth Zoo contributes to conservation of wild animals through reintroduction programs after having bred in captivity.
They successfully released Sumatran Orangutans back into the protected Bukit Tigapuluh National park in Sumatra, Indonesia, in November 2006, boosting orangutan numbers and adding to the park’s genetic diversity. Clearly, it is zoo breeding programs that are boosting species populations and giving animals a chance.
Today we are highly educated in regards to the needs of animals in captivity and consequently, a well designed and managed zoo can provide a positive existence for animals.
Animals need to have access to enrichment activities that allow them to express their natural behavior. These enrichment activities or toys aim to encourage natural behaviours such as hunting, use of scent and hiding food, provide animal welfare by increasing exercise, satisfying ‘behavioural needs’ and stimulating animals, and to promote visitor education so that visitors can gain a better understanding of their natural behaviours and interests.
An example of enrichment provided to animals in captivity is the lions. Lions are given ostrich eggs or pumpkin seeds to spark their curiosity, fragrant herbs and oils to excite the senses and specially made toys to encourage natural behaviours such as hunting and stalking. Another animal which receives enrichment is bears.
They are given live fish in a pond to simulate natural hunting behaviour, rotten tree trunks filled with insects including termites to snack on, leaf litter with hidden food treats like walnuts or frozen fruit like watermelon, which also cools bears in warmer weather. Does it seem like the animals are missing out? As long as animals in zoos are top priority and well cared for, it is possible that quite an enjoyable environment can be created.
A world without zoos could mean a world without some of the most precious and valued species we have. However, by creating zoos that are enriching and natural and strive to meet an animal’s needs, we can create hope that these species will stay with us for longer, and that they can live happy, fulfilled lives in a world where animals are cared for and protected.