Exploring identify and address many of the challenges the

Exploring zoos has always
seemed to spark curiosity, in whether the role of zoos are as innocent as portrayed
to the public. Many would argue that a cage is no place for a wild animal, yet
instead made to be an unwilling spectacle for the publics prying eyes. However
according to specialists employed by these zoos, animals are no longer safe in
the wild…

Chester Zoo for example,
created in 1930 with a vision of ‘a zoo without bars’, it claimed to be one of
the very first ethical zoos. Throughout the development of time, zoos have had
to create an income for themselves to improve the lives of these captive
animals, and to develop many other aspects in their zoos. Despite “their popularity and
place in our recreational history, in recent years zoos have undergone
considerable change in both their structure and function” 1 to adapt to society. An example being, animals are not taken
from the wild (as they were previously), they now have enhanced breeding
programs, therefore playing a part in conserving the endangered species, that struggle
to survive in their own habitat. This breeding is analysed and the animals
involved are closely monitored (for their own safety), keeping these detailed
records means that the zoos can prevent interbreeding, creating the next
healthy generation of species. In addition, breeding programs prevent
extinction, this conservation uses scientific evidence/individual studies to
help identify and address many of the challenges the modern day, natural world
faces. The threatened species gain reproductive success, due to informed
decisions, the programs become successful and it increases the chances of
reintroducing them to the wild.

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According to zoos themselves,
there are four things that summarise roles of zoos; “recreation (habitats),
education, research and conservation”
3. There are certain zoos that specialise in different conservative
roles, for example, Chester Zoo specialises in biodiversity surveys and
ecological monitoring. These are key tools to provide information of the
species and wildlife that need the most attention and monitoring. Wildlife
health and wellbeing is an aspect taken very seriously by the conservation
community, many of the research projects taken out by the zoos are useful to
inform and educate the impact of wildlife health to society. Zoos use a range
of methods to ensure the best care of each species, as well as the
investigation of diseases that may influence the species greatly in the wild.
Good welfare is standardised by BIAZA, British, Irish, Association of Zoos, and
Aquariums, they measure welfare on physical health, mental health, social life,
enclosure space, and environmental enrichment. Each zoo must justify the
captivity of each animal, e.g. critically endangered; they have to reach a
certain criteria.

As well as, wildlife health
and wellbeing, “conservationists seek ways to protect natural systems and heal
the wounds of degraded systems” 2.
Zoos must consider sustainable development, when taking on the role of
conservation; species such as some tropical monkeys are at risk of
extinction/decreasing numbers, due to human negligence. The increased loss of
habitat has “increased rate of extinction, which calls for a more proactive and
coordinated response from the global conservation community” 4 Deforestation plays a key role in
this, clearing vast spaces to make room for Palm Oil plantations, this
unsustainable living forces action i.e. zoo intervention. Almost “all wild
lands and ecosystems are continuing to decline—and ever more rapidly. It is
clear that the nature and aspirations of conservation activities must deal with
these realities” 2.  

The role of a zoo is not only
just to sustain the rapidly decreasing natural landscape and species at risk,
it is to inspire the next generation of conservationists, to inform and excite
people of the natural world they live in. This education ensures zoos will have
a constant supply of visitors and people who are genuinely passionate about
sustaining the planet. “They conclude that with more than 134 million visitors
a year, zoos are in a unique position to provide environmental education and
conservation education to large numbers of people” 5. At each habitat, there are unique ways of learning about the
animals, a way of combining fun for young children as well as incorporating
vital information to conserve the planet. Visitor and community engagement
gives the zoo a chance to help the public understand the impact of the zoos work;
many visitors may believe the animals on display are in distress due to the
vast amount of visitors, especially for the high profile species (lions, tigers
etc). Research has shown that many of the animals born into the zoo, are not affected
by the public, and the zoo makes sure there is some sort of peaceful shelter
for the animal. As these animals are captive, there is a worry that the animals
may be severely stressed or react badly to the spotlight, the ones that were
born into the zoo will not be fazed by the vast amount of people walking
through or past their home.

Almost all zoos in the UK are
registered charities, with no individual benefit; the money gained from
visitors is put back into the conservation of the animals. The charitable work
of zoos does not end inside the zoo gates; they extend their research abroad to
conservation projects across the world. A critical feature of foreign
conservation is the intervention of human-wildlife conflict; a community is in
direct threat from an animal, or vice versa. This could be a threat to their
job (farming) or their families’ safety, in most situations, the community
resort to harming the animal. An understanding of the species and community is
essential to migrate the animal, or resolve the ecological situation.

Concluding this essay, zoos
have become essential to the conservation of these many species, that are
becoming scarcer as time progresses, extinction is a very real problem and zoos
target this problem extremely well. To educate and excite the public by
physically showing them the species is more important than informing them
through television or documentaries. These zoos provide fundraising and help for
the animals in need, not just within the zoo but throughout the world and the
habitats abroad, as well as the ability to prevent diseases and study the
animals in depth.