Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.
Why have zoos?
To me a zoo is any place where a wild animal is kept and maintained in confinement. So by this definition it would include Safari Parks, Aquariums, Oceanariums, Sanctuaries, Bird Parks and others...and of course zoos (Zoological Gardens). My opinion is shared by several dictionary definitions.
The earliest of zoo animals were probably cattle, sheep, goats, wolves, camels and similar which were wild and eventually domesticated and evolved into the 'farm' animals we are familiar with today. Some such species like the elephant have never become truly domesticated and so are on the fringe.
Early man had many ideas about the creatures with whom he shared his environment. Whilst some were looked on as food others were attributed with 'God' like or magical properties. It is likely that the first true 'zoo' animals were these. For example Bears held long time in pits where they were fed or worshipped.
Snow Leopard in Zurich Zoo
Kings, Rulers, Emperors in China, Egypt and South America maintained zoos. These were collections of 'curiosities' and as likely to keep unusual people of other races and cultures as they were to keep animals. As the world became smaller the countries ruler would present animals from his own country as gift to another.
The oldest recognised zoo today is Tiergarten Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Zoo) in Austria and was established in 1752 around animals which were presented to the ruler.
Zoos have progressed a long way since those times till today their reason for being has complely changed.
I should say at this point that there are 'good' zoos and 'bad' zoos and some of the bad ones are truly awful. They need a helping hand or closing down. I have visited many zoos and it seems to me that the bad ones are bad due to ignorance or cultural differences. No-one is out to be cruel or unkind. It is simply because they really know no better. This became very clear to me when I visited a zoo in the Philippines where the collection was scattered with inspiring messages of the like of:
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated". - Mahatma Ghandi
There were dozens of similar messages. The owners truly believed this was the garden of Eden and yet it was an awful place...though I admit I have seen far worse. It is the moral duty of the 'good' zoos of the world to lead the way, to inspire and guide these collections to the proper path.
Golden Lion Tamarin
Happily the picture is changing and there are more 'good' zoos today than ever before and whilst these continue to improve, legal requirements mean that more come aboard each year. Most good zoos today are members of organisations like WAZA, EAZA, BIAZA, SEAZA, AZA, ARAZPA, PAAZAP, CAZA and similar. These strive to maintain standards within zoos, exchange information through cooperation improve on what they have. ZooNews Digest is amongst many publications which strives to keep zoo staff the world over updated on events and activities.
Any zoo which is not a member of one of the above or similar organisations is not a good zoo. It is not good because it has opted out or has been disallowed because it fails to meet the requirements of a good zoo. Be extremely sceptical if they give any other reason.
Even within the 'good' zoo barrel there are a few rotten apples. These are collections where money speaks louder than words and corruption is the norm. It is only a matter of time before these are weeded out.
So why have zoos today? If there were no zoos it would be necessary to invent them. Zoos fill a variety of roles but primarily Education, Conservation, Research and, yes, Entertainment.
The good zoo today fills these roles and more. The anti-zoo brigade have an entirely incorrect or mixed up view as to what zoos are all about and would be well advised to read The World Zoo Conservation Strategy before commenting for forming an opinion.
Zoos are not prisons guarded by cruel jailers. They are safe animal homes where the animals recieve the very best of care and love. The wild on the other hand IS cruel. Animals do suffer. They are injured and die lingering painful deaths. They starve. They are shot, poisoned and forced out of their homes. That said animals DO belong in the wild and 99% of zoo personell would say that in a perfect world that this would be best. But it is not a perfect world and the wild is shrinking. Soon there will be no where for animals to go.
The anti-zoos argue that people should watch animals on TV and donate to preserving wild habitat. TV lacks the impact of real animals so zoos play a role there and people are more likely to donate if they see the real thing. Zoos collect money for 'wild' projects. They pay to preserve and protect wild environments.
Zoos are about conservation and breeding programmes. The anti-zoos argue that zoos very rarely if ever return animals to the wild. Why should they? If the problems in the wild still exist it would be cruel and senseless to put animals back to an uncertain fate. Breeding programmes should be looked at long term...very long term. In terms of hundreds of years. The idea is that managed genetically viable populations are maintained so that they could be put back should it be safe to do so at some future date.
Zoos very rarely take animals from the wild. I would estimate that in excess of 80% of animals kept in good zoos were born there as were their parents, grandparents and beyond. They know no different. They have no 'wild' memory. Of the others the majority will have been captive for many years. Many years longer than they would have lived if they had remained in the wild. Many people have misconcieved ideas about zoos.
Zoos care about their animals. Anti-zoos get the idea that animals in the wild are 'free'. They are not. They are confined within an invisible barrier known as a 'territory'.
A wild territory is the animals home. It lives within it. A territory's size is determined by food. Less food needs a bigger territory. More food needs smaller. Territories need protecting, they need to be fought over. They are stressful to maintain. Within a zoo the territory is shrunk to a size within which the animal feels comfortable and all amenties are available including health care. Good zoos have an active enrichment programme which is designed to keep the animals mind active.
Zoos are about Education. Good zoos have an education department or at the very least an education officer. Zoos teach. Visitors learn and therefore respect animals and the wild. Whereas huge numbers of schools visit zoos for education purposes the majority go for a day out. Zoo education needs to be given slyly. it needs to be enjoyable. They need to learn without realising it. No-one wants to go back to school.
Zoos are about Entertainment. Shows can be fun and educational. There should be no need to poke or prod. Animals can be trained to perform natural behaviours and steer well away from the circus acts of old. There are some excellent shows out there.
The make up of the average zoo visitor changes the world over. Zoos are non sexist, non religious, non pornographic, non political. They can be relaxing places to visit, to meet friends, have a good day out and learn more of the wonderful creatures with which we share our planet.
There should be more zoos not less. We need more zoos.
The saddest thing about the anti- zoo brigade is their blinkered uninformed approach. You can read honest replies to their statements by visiting:
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on October 07, 2013:
Thanks Anonymous.....releasing a 'domesticated' in some cases would be difficult. There are enough feral cats and horses out there to show it is not a huge problem. Other species would need to be re-wilded, which is not too difficult.
Anonymous on October 07, 2013:
Just wondering, if a Zoo released a domesticated animal, how would it adapt? It would be hard for them to survive wouldn't it?
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on June 29, 2012:
anonymous - they breed them! I am currently working with third generation penguins. They were born in zoos (hatched) as were their parents and their grandparents.
anonymous on June 29, 2012:
How can one say they're not taking animals from the wild, that just doesn't make sense. Where are they getting them?
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on October 15, 2011:
I have written a lot on the subject. Check out my other Hub pages. Use https://discover.hubpages.com/animals/The-Zoo-Hubs... and read through the articles in the 'Zoo related' section.
Maya on October 15, 2011:
I am really interested in a career in this field but have a few queries such as pay and the qualifications needed to work in a zoo. Do you have any tips or advice?
sunny on March 21, 2011:
I live near delhi, india
i visited delhi zoo today.....shattered....completely different wt television shows us........like they have in europe.....why the real world is so diff ...from wt i see in television.......or is it country diffrnc ?
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on March 21, 2011:
sunny - you should look through The Zoo Hubs https://discover.hubpages.com/animals/The-Zoo-Hubs... as you will find advice to help you there. 28 is not to old to start zoo work. Sadly you must be living near a zoo to start because work experience, voluntary or otherwise is essential. Sometimes inexeperienced people are considered if they have other things to offer. Take a look at http://zoowork.blogspot.com/ Look through past vacancies and see what different zoos are asking.
sunny on March 20, 2011:
What are the respectable jobs in zoo, atleast descent pays(cause end of the day one has to pay bills ) and one can opt if dont have any zology background like im i.t engg and i absolutely hate i.t and corporate houses.
I watched discovery animal planet ngc but its been 15 years i never able to found entry in such awsome jobs....is there any way now....i m 28 not worked till now no work exp.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on February 06, 2011:
sathushan - You need to do some more reading and research. Good zoos care.
sathushan on February 06, 2011:
zoos killl pooor animals
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 10, 2010:
bobby - I will agree that there is definitely a point when small becomes too small but strange as it may seem it is not so much a size related issue. Read 'The Perfect Zoo Enclosure' as it may go a little further towards explaining what I mean.
bobby on May 10, 2010:
i get your points some of them. but in the end your pu tting animals in a cage and / or in a small area......this is not right then.
ntweisen on February 19, 2010:
Great zoo hubs! Maybe you would like to be a guest author on my Zoo Tails blog? http://zoo-tails.blogspot.com/
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on July 14, 2009:
Thank you Amanda. Your comments are noted....but, I don't believe you actually read the hub. Please do. Read also my other hubs about zoos, in particular 'Zoo Misconceptions'. You have your opinion and I have mine. I am prepared to change mine based on an assessment of facts available to me. Your statement is not factual and is mainly incorrect.
Amanda on July 14, 2009:
Zoos are an absolute disgrace. How can anyone take pleasure in seeing a wild animal being caged? It is an incredibly selfish act for human beings to take an animal from its natural habitat and confine it for viewing entertainment. People try to justify zoos by stating that it provides a safe and comfortable home for the animals and that they educate the public on wildlife and conservation. Zoos do not exist out of the welfare of wildlife but to make a profit of exploiting innocent animals to ignorant people who actually believe that the animals are happy. As for “educating the public”, here’s what zoos are forgetting say: Wildlife belongs in the wild and do not need domesticated care from human beings.
Healey on June 18, 2009:
I'm really enjoying your Hubs, zoo oriented and otherwise. May I invite you to read mine? This is the first in a series I'll be writing about my work at the San Diego Zoo.