Friday, May 28, 2010
A Day at the Zoo
Okay, I admit it...I have mixed feelings about zoos and aquariums. On the one hand, it seems fundamentally wrong to "contain" wild animals for human entertainment. On the other hand, I believe that people care more about things (i.e. people, places, animals, etc.) they've actually seen, smelled, and in some cases, even touched. And as habitat for many of the earth's inhabitants is confiscated by human beings for our own purposes, animals need people that care more than ever. And let's face it, unless we as a species get a handle on the human population issue, zoos may actually become the only places some other species exist anywhere.
So given the important role of zoos with regard to education, research, breeding, and preservation of species, I believe they are obligated to do everything possible to ensure the quality of life of the animals in their care, providing not only food and medical care but also enough space and stimulation that each species can behave as naturally as possible. There's no excuse for tigers pacing back and forth behind bars or great apes sitting in a corner facing the wall.
Fortunately, a growing number of zoos are taking their mission as animal arks seriously. The San Diego Zoo, the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, the Columbus Zoo in Ohio are just a few of the outstanding zoos in the United States alone.
Earlier this week as I strolled around the National Zoo in Washington, DC, I noticed many improvements--for both residents and visitors--since I'd been there more than a decade ago. The Asia Trail wove through exhibits bordered by foliage punctuated by occasional viewing places; this approach offers the animals more privacy and quiet while still allowing controlled visual access by visitors. A learning center for apes allows for regular mental stimulation. And the elephant house is undergoing a much-needed renovation. Educational stations offering comprehensive information abound. And there are even misting stations along the major paths where hot and weary children--and adults--can cool off.
So as I say, I'm still ambivalent. But as I stood by the great cats exhibit, a little boy--he must have been about 5 or 6 years old--on a school trip looked up at me and asked, "Are you a discoverer?"
"Yes, I am," I replied. "And the zoo is a great place to be a discoverer because I love animals."
"Me too!" the child declared enthusiastically.
And I think to myself that if the world's wildlife has a future of any kind it will be because children like this little boy learn to love them. And where better than at a zoo?