By Howie Minsky, Our Man in Africa
This week I’d like to share my thoughts about wildlife and the educational and conservational aspects of zoos. I wish everyone could experience what I have encountered in the several months I’ve spent in Africa. It’s becoming ever more difficult to observe these exotic animals in the wild.
As a child, I had always read about animals, subscribed to National Geographic, and watched every animal show on TV. However, nothing touched me more powerfully than visiting a zoo and seeing live animals from exotic locales just a few feet away.
I often hear people casting a negative light on the notion of animals in captivity. I, too, dream of a world where animals remain free, have more land than they need, and are never hunted by man.
In fact, there are very few places where animals are actually free. Much of the world’s remaining wildlife and the land they inhabit are protected by rangers and managed by boards of directors; these game preserves and parks are basically large zoos.
Most modern zoos have a strong record of caring for their animals and provide more authentic natural environments. Sure, we have all seen online videos of zoos that mistreat their animals. As atrocious as these zoos are, they are not representative of the many world class organizations with staff dedicated to the health and well-being of their exotic creatures.
Without zoos, our children and the community at large would not be as enlightened about wildlife and conservation efforts. Having easy access to view exotic animals has given hundreds of millions of children around the world the awareness and appreciation of exotic animals and their wild counterparts. Children become more compassionate toward animals through these encounters, behavior that can start at a very young age as toddlers cuddle goats and bunnies in a petting zoo. Some of these same children will most certainly become talented conservationists.
Zoos provide many valuable benefits for wildlife and the environment. They educate the public at large about animals and conservation. They create awareness of animal species people would never know exist. Wildlife is not traditionally protected by business or government; it is most often protected by ordinary people like you and me who voice their concerns, give donations, volunteer and provide their time to environmental causes.
Zoos are a preventive measure against extinction and help maintain healthy populations of animal species. Did you know there are many species of animals which are extinct in the wild, yet are alive and well in zoos around the world? Zoos actually help increase the diversity of bloodlines in wild animal populations through programs to care for injured animals and introduce others back to the wild.
So before we are quick to foster negative views of modern zoos, think about the positive benefits many of these organizations achieve. So visit your local zoo. Our world’s wildlife will thank you.