Are you one of those people who adores animals but just doesn’t love zoos? That was me, until quite recently.
Zoos have changed an awful lot since we were young — I had no idea how much more humane, advanced, and forward-thinking they are now.
You may have heard the term behavioral enrichment — it’s “a principle that works to enhance the quality of captive animals’ lives by identifying and providing the specific, necessary environmental stimuli for optimal psychological and physiological well-being.” Most Zoos in the US are now focused around enrichment. Zoo habitats have become larger, more natural, and more geared to what is most appropriate to the animal species. Feeding and other activities are structured to create maximum brain activity, and what most will most closely resemble their natural hunting/foraging behaviors. Animals that are engaged in this way live longer, happier, healthier lives. Yes, they are technically “in captivity”, but the barren, sad cages we saw as kids are becoming a thing of the past in all but the poorest countries.
Where I live in Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo does a phenomenal job of caring for its animals. The habitats are quite spacious and the landscaping is incredibly sensitive and specific. Many of the animals are born/bred at the zoo in an effort to conserve highly-endangered species. I just love visiting; where else can I sit down and communicate with orangutans, elusive big cats from different continents, and bird species I have never before heard of? How else can young children observe wild animals firsthand and learn about respecting animal life, or see biological diversity, conservation and animal care in action — all in one location?
The animals in these zoos serve as “ambassadors” of their species and do convey to me that they understand the important work they do to educate the humans they share the planet with.
I urge you to give a zoo visit a try — you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was!