Frankly I have had enough of all the zoo apologists out there. Frequently in social media, and in news articles I see people involved in every facet of the zoological industry apologizing for animals in “captivity”. Even zoo directors try to explain why it’s an unfortunate necessity to keep animals in human care. The director of the Detroit Zoo has even gone so far, as to align himself with groups that actively oppose the great work that zoos do. Enough is enough!
I saw a zookeeper the other day use the term “necessary evil” to describe zoos. Why in the world would anyone involved with a zoo think they are anything but amazing?
About a year ago I read a book by Thomas French called Zoo Story, overall it was a pretty good book but what has stuck with me a year later, is that when Mr. French asked many of the keepers at the zoo about “captivity” they said it was a “necessary evil” and that they wished the animals that they cared for could be back in the wild living free.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear, I do not wish the animals that I work with could be returned to the so called “wild”. This thought process by people who are supposed to know the most about exotic animals leads me to believe that they are simply out of touch with the reality of what the wild really is like. For example, one of the species I work with are Olive Baboons, by all objective measures these Baboons have wonderful fulfilled lives in human care. On the opposite end of the spectrum wild Baboons in Africa are shot daily because they are seen as pests, and I firmly believe that human baboon conflict will one day lead to species like Olive Baboons, who currently have stable populations to become threatened or even endangered due to human encroachment.
Zoos and zoological breeding facilities as a savior of species and genetic diversity isn’t just an advertising slogan, it’s the truth. The natural world as we know it, is in danger on all fronts. Many of the earths megafauna like elephants and rhino’s could in the very near future, go extinct in the wild. If zoos and ex-situ breeding programs didn’t exist some of the earths largest and most amazing creatures would be lost to the world and no more relevant than the dinosaurs. Is the work of preserving the planets creatures a “necessary evil”? I certainly don’t think so, if anything zoos are giving the world a great gift, that gift is saving us from ourselves. In 100 years when many of the worlds species have gone extinct from poaching, habitat loss, and human conflict, I think people living then will be thanking us. Asian Elephants, Snow Leopards, and Panamanian Golden Frogs are priceless works of art that if lost to the world can never be recovered. One species of frog saved by a zoo or breeding program is more precious and special to the world than a painting like the Mona Lisa could ever be, and I just hope that society wakes up and realizes that before it’s too late.
Zoos, aquariums, breeding facilties, and the people that work for them are the last line of defense for the natural world. If you are an animal care professional, don’t apologize for the work you do, be proud and shout it from the rooftop! If you don’t work with zoological animals be sure to thank a zookeeper or animal care professional, because they are fighting like mad to save the earth’s most precious works of art, for everyone.
–Gavin Livingston, The Unlikely Conservationist