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Zoos, Why Do We Keep Exotic Animals In The Zoo?

Leopard Up Close Growling Through Cyclone Fencing

Leopard face close up looking through wire

Leopard face close up looking through wire


As I stroll through the local Zoo in our area, I find myself questioning the reason for such places. I contemplate how they bring in revenue and are fascinating journeys into the life of the otherwise unknown world of exotic animals. But really, who decided to keep exotic animals in a zoo? I know from my college years that zoos were originally facilities that were created to hold and display wild animals mostly for recreation and education purposes. Humans have had zoos in several locations throughout the world for over 200 years.

Yet, there is little doubt that humans have captured and kept animals prior to recorded history. In these early times rulers and high powered citizens frequently kept herds of wild animals to show their power, wealth, and influence. These captive flocks were unlike modern zoos because--usually--they were not accessible to the public for viewing and education. So, where did the whole zoo idea take a turn toward what we visit today as the modern exotic animal parks we call zoos?

Zoos from Europe to U.S. - The begining

Vienna, Madrid, and Paris founded the first modern-day zoos back in the 18Th century and in London and Berlin in the early 19Th century. Philadelphia and Cincinnati, were the first in the United States to open zoos in 1870. These days, you can count well over 10,000 zoos, which bring to bear far more than 619 million visitors yearly (approximately 10% of the world population). These zoos range from roadside zoos operated by ill trained money grubbers to elaborate parks staffed with educated and well trained staff members.

As little as ten years ago, the zoos response to the reason for keeping animals in captivity was conservation, but as reported by Bob Mullen and Gary Marvin in Watching people watch animals--second edition, this response was a more rhetorical device for public relations rather than an actual primary function of most zoos. However in these past ten years, there has been a significant revision to the zoo strategy. The modern philosophy of the core zoo is that they must structure themselves in such a manner that they are perceived by the growing aware public, to be part of a global awareness of animal conservation. Zoos must genuinely make a connection between animals confined in zoos, to that of the potential fate of the natural world and the creatures which inhabit it.

We would all be well served to take a strong look at the pros and cons of today's zoos in this country. Primarily to lay to rest any remaining needless cruelty and bring about the humane treatment of these grand exotic animals which are displayed in some less than "standard" roadside zoos.

Female Lynx

Inside an isolation enclosure with a female Big Cat - "Lynx" are defined as any of many wildcats with a short tail, long legs, and tufted ears.

Inside an isolation enclosure with a female Big Cat - "Lynx" are defined as any of many wildcats with a short tail, long legs, and tufted ears.


The new zoo requirements have been presented in three very direct and meaningful rules which have been put in place by the International Directors of Zoological Gardens—The World Zoo Organization and the Captive Breeding Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The three rules suggest that zoos should work towards proving their conservation and concern for the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it by:

The 3 Rules For Zoos

  1. Actively supporting, through coordinated programs, the conservation of population of species in situ and ex situ and, through these, to the conservation of natural habitats, biotopes, and eco systems.
  2. Offering support and facilities in order to increase scientific knowledge that will benefit conservation, and lending support to the conservation community by making available relevant knowledge and experience.
  3. Promoting an increase of public and political awareness of the necessity for conservation, natural resource sustainability, and the creation of a new equilibrium between people and nature.





  • Zoos, Exotic Animal Captivity Education
    Who and when did humans decide to keep exotic animals in captivity? An easy to follow guide defining the zoo concept from its inception to our modern day exhibits and animal collections. Zoo education.
  • Zoos, Is Formal Education Enough to Get a Job at the Zoo
    To get a job at the Zoo takes more than just a good education in zoo management. You have to know what internships, and hands-on experience is also required! Some fun shots of a white tiger!

White Tiger Face

White tiger seems to grin and pose for the camera

White tiger seems to grin and pose for the camera


In conclusion, it has always been the few special humans with the understanding and humanity towards all creatures that motivate any group toward the better treatment of exotic zoo creatures and domestic animals alike. In the beginning, zoos had a social response leading to a sense of power and well being for the elite and ruling people.

Thankfully over time this has evolved into something far more meaningful for the beasts involved as well as for the sake of our human existence. Co-existing in the realm of the natural world is as important for the creatures we study and protect, as it is for the humans who are at the heart of such important work. It is a fine line we travel upon when dabbling into the science of animal behaviour.

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It is important to keep in perspective that how we proceed in our studies says more about our own human fate, than it does about the actions and outcome of our animal counterparts.



Comments for ZOOS - Who decided to keep exotic animals in a zoo?

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on March 23, 2011:

prairieprincess~ LOL! A good example of a Long tail subject... You rock! Thanks for your comments, I too have mixed feeling on the subject of exotic animal captivity. I have to believe that the majority of zoos are in business to honor the animals and to learn by helping them co-exist in our world. You know, make a better place for all living things and to protect the wildlife populations. I really appreciate that you stopped by to take in a read on zoos--and possibly long tails as well!


Sharilee Swaity from Canada on March 23, 2011:

Keystrokes, this is an interesting article. I have always had mixed feelings about zoos. On one hand, I love to be able to be exposed to the animals, who are so fascinating and beautiful. On the other hand, it feels rather cruel to see these wild creatures being stared, without their choice.

I know one zoo in Canada (Calgary Zoo) is very progressive with acres and acres of natural habitats. On the other hand, Winnipeg's zoo seems very contained and cramped for some of their animals, especially the cats. Loved this hub, and it is a great example of a long-tail subject! Take care!

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 24, 2010:

Mickey~ I have to agree with you about the politicians! Being Humane on outside is the only way to find peace on the inside. Thank you for your comments my friend--blessings.


Micky Dee on December 24, 2010:

Thank you K9keystrokes for an important message. I am against incarceration or suffering for anyone or anything. Now to avoid , "What about criminals?"- America is the most imprisoned nation on Earth and something is stupid about that. America is asleep at the wheel. Congressmen should be incarcerated before animals or criminals. Keep the worst off the streets first. God bless!

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 23, 2010:

livelonger~ You are so right. Zoo management has come a very long way since the days of elite powers and animal ownership. Today I am comforted by the knowledge that new studies and awareness have been utilized in the building of enclosures and the care of exotic animals in captivity. Thank you for the comments and for stopping by!


Jason Menayan from San Francisco on December 23, 2010:

Great Hub - interesting perspective on the lives of wild animals in captivity. I think the advancements in replicating their natural habitats is a step in the right direction.

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