As a nature-lover, I do believe in, and support the idea of zoological parks around the world. Not only do these parks provide the opportunity for people to experience being in the presence of an animal that they may never see in the wild. They also provide the opportunity for ongoing scientific research, and public education. By visiting zoos in their childhood, many people are inspired to pursue future careers in animal and environmental sciences, and/or conservation.
However, I say "the idea of", because there are many zoos that are either underfunded, or mismanaged, and do not seem to operate for the benefit of the animals in their care. I believe that all zoos should:
1) make a conscious and thoughtful effort to provide large and natural habitats that represent the environment where the animal would normally thrive.
2) provide mental stimulus to the animals, allowing them to exhibit natural behaviors as they would in the wild, (such as foraging for food, interacting with objects in the environment, and participating in social groups if appropriate for the species).
3) provide well balanced nutrition, and proper medical care, to keep the animals healthy, happy, and suitable for breeding.
4) participate in animal exchange programs with other parks for the purpose of breeding, socialization, and to maintain captive populations. This will reduce or eliminate the taking of healthy animals from the wild.
5) participate in breeding programs that result in the release of animals to boost wild populations, or to reintroduce a species that had been endangered or extinct due to the encroachment of man.
The NC Zoo in Asheboro North Carolina definitely gets my approval. Between 1996 and 2007, they've won eleven awards, both locally, and internationally, for their conservation and environmental protection programs. They've spent years restructuring their property to provide larger and more natural habitats, including vegetation that provide food sources for the animals to forage for themselves. They participate in breeding programs that result in the release of endangered animals back into the wild, and provide animals for other parks. They've even participated in the restructuring of war-torn zoos in Baghdad, Iraq and Kabul, Afghanistan.
I'm going to dedicate my next few postings to photographs I've taken of the animals at the NC Zoo.