What’s New At The Zoo?

“People forget the good that zoos do. If it weren’t for zoos, we would have so many species that would be extinct today.”

– Betty White

[I haven’t written on this blog for the last two months as I’ve been very busy otherwise engaged in a new undertaking, to do something constructive with my retirement days. I have undergone some 80 hours of classroom lectures at Fresno Chaffee Zoo in biology, zoology, taxonomy, ecosystems and habitats and more, done labs, and as many or more hours in homework readings and on-site familiarization of the zoo’s veterinary hospital and (animal) commissary facilities and the zoo and its inhabitants, and observing the keepers at their duties, to graduate as a zoo docent – who will now be guiding tours and giving fact-filled informative talks to visitors about our zoo, our guests (the animals), the environment and habitats and conservation and, with further training, to handle some of the animals (for show and tell up close with the visitors). And to continue, I’ll need additional class-hours every year to be recertified a docent, in addition to undertaking continuing education “credits” during the year. (I cite the depth of this training, as it is not common for most zoos to train their docents thus – many zoo’s docents are nothing more than Walmart-like meeters-and-greeters inside the entrance, handing out site maps and directing visitors to the location of the gift shop, food courts, and bathroom facilities.) Never in my imagination did I realize what I would be taught, what I would learn, and it changed my concept of zoos totally.]

If you google what people have to say about zoos, you’ll mostly find negative comments denigrating them in the harshest of terms, deploring the inhumane caging of wild animals, etc.

I’m not sure that “inhumane” is a proper descriptive term here, I’ve never seen a human caged in a zoo; a better word, to coin a phrase (so to speak), might be “inanimal”?

And in many cases, those critical of zoos – at first blush – have a point; it is inanimal to just take an animal out of its natural, wild and free, habitat and confine it in a barred cage for we humans to simply gawk at for our own amusement, especially those animals that have higher intelligence and self-awareness that come damn close to being human – like the great apes and elephants, and dolphins (the lesser brained reptiles, fish, and most birds haven’t a mental clue about what’s happened to them or where they are). I say, “at first blush”, because if that is all a zoo does then the critics would be right.

But, I wonder if the critics haven’t been to the zoo lately. Especially a modern zoo, and one that is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). There are approximately 180 zoos in the US, but only about 140 are recognized as worthy of accreditation. Accredited zoos are:

• Reimaging animal enclosures, getting rid of cages or small enclosures and creating large open spaces for the animals to freely roam in a natural-like environment.
• Dedicated to saving species from total extinction (of some 6,000 species in all AZA zoos, 1,000 are endangered).
• Establishing breeding programs for those in danger of extinction and reintroducing as many as possible back into the wild (successes include the black footed ferret, sea otter, California condor, among many others).
• Educating the general public of the need to reorient mankind’s thinking and practices that have resulted in loss of animal habitats, that will result in extinctions if such practices go unchecked and habitats are not restored (in some cases, the animals seen in the zoo today are the only living examples of their species, none exist in the wild any longer due to human predation or degradation or destruction of their habitat and/or interconnected biosystem), and how they can personally get involved and help.

So, if you haven’t been to the zoo in a while…go. Take the kids or grandkids. Talk to the staff docents and keepers. Ask if it’s a AZA accredited zoo. If the answer is no, ask why not. If you’re put off, go public.

You just might find that a zoo is no longer a cruel show for our amusement. They are now sanctuaries, true animal rescues, and an educational experience.

You just might find that it’s now nothing like what you remember a zoo being.

– Bill

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