The subject of the rights or wrongs of zoos can be very emotive with many unbalanced views being put forward by people who have little real knowledge of zoos and their aims.

Facilities In Zoos

A zoo is defined as a permanent place where wild species are kept for exhibition to the public. 

In theory all zoos should provide the following;

  •     Food and water
  •     A suitable environment
  •     Health-care
  •     An opportunity to express most normal behaviour
  •     Protection from fear and distress

If any zoo does not come up to the required standards of housing, environment, care and feeding, and perhaps even 'philosophy'  one could question why it is allowed to operate at all.    

The standard of facilities is, in most zoos, governed by the amount of space available, the size of the collection, costs and income. This is especially an issue in less developed countries where the zoos may have noble conservation intentions, but limited income.  All zoos now face huge feeding bills each year. Maintenance and heating add further outgoings, as do staff salaries and veterinary care. The admission fee to most zoos is expensive, but reflects their running costs.  It has been suggested that the best zoos in the country should receive a government grant each year to help zoos develop their two main aims of  a) study, research and breeding of endangered species and b) education.

Even in the past 30 years zoos have much improved their facilities and the quality of life of their residents.  It is not usually the case in the UK to see an animal pacing up and down its cage out of frustration and boredom, needing to release some energy.  The aim of any good zoo should be to recreate the habitat from which the animal came as accurately as possible, with enough space to move around and enough stimulation so that they can behave naturally.  Monkey cages should have plenty of branches for them to swing from and bird cages should have enough room so that they can fly.   Some zoos hide the lion’s or tiger’s food so that they have to use their senses to explore and find it.  This burns up some of their energy and means that they don’t get used to set feeding times which they would not have in the wild.
 
The amount of space in any zoo is limited and can rarely compare to a creatures range in the wild.  A lion’s territory can span 100 square miles or more.  Therefore, in a zoo they get much less exercise and can put on weight.  They also lack the freedom and stimulus of living and surviving in the wild. No matter how good a zoo is, it is no substitute for the real thing.  Some people think that this is justification enough to not agree with zoos at all. 

In captivity animals can, on the whole, experience a longer life with vets on hand to give medical attention, a plentiful and guaranteed supply of food and no threats from predators or normal hazards of living. But this in itself is unnatural for these animals and life spent in a small area can only be a bad thing.  A lion can expect to live 10 to 14 years in the wild, but over 20 in captivity. 

Leaving animals in the wild is the ideal solution where they can express natural behaviour and live as part of the bigger eco-system.  The sad truth is that the loss of habitats for animals in the wild and the predicted rarity of so many species mean that zoos may be the final refuge for many creatures and the last hope of conserving their species.

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