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February 15, 2011
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What YOU Need to Know on Zoos by NaturePunk What YOU Need to Know on Zoos by NaturePunk
I take a lot of photos of wild animals living in zoos. People often look at my work and ask, "If you're for animal rights, why do you support these zoos?"

My answer is this:

Zoos can be both a blessing and a curse. Many zoos in the world today make their money by exploiting their animals for human entertainment. But others exist for the purpose of perpetuating conservation and education, and, in many ways, could be the ONLY way to save certain species from extinction.

What LOT of people don't understand is that in the United States, zoos can become accredited by an organization known as the AZA, the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They operate to establish a new standard for zoos, focusing on breeding programs and advances in animal care tactics. All zoos accredited by the AZA must meet a series a grueling standards, including proper enclosure size, exceptional animal care and husbandry, and a focus on conservation.

These AZA zoos have established a program called the Species Survival Plan, which focuses on increasing the genetic diversity of captive zoo animals. An increased genetic diversity is VITAL to keeping a species alive, specially if the species comes from just a small population of breeding founders.

AZA animals are NOT taken from the wild; they are the ancestors of breeding stock which was captured more than 80 years ago. The only exception to this rule is for animals which are in need of rescue, and which cannot be released back into the wild.

The Oregon Zoo houses several birds of prey which are the victims of car collisions and attempted poaching, all of which are not fit to survive in the wild. They also have a mountain lion which was rescued as an orphan (who is now the proud mother of the very first cougar cub born at an AZA zoo in 15 years).

Through the efforts of the Species Survival Plan, many rare and endangered animals are now facing a brighter future. Using captive specimens, biologists can artificially inseminate wild specimens which would otherwise have trouble finding a mate among their fractured populations.

Likewise, it gives scientists and opportunity to learn from animals without having to disturb them in the wild. A prime example would be the case of a scientist studying elephants at the Oregon Zoo, trying to figure out how the giants communicated over vast distances. One day, while taking notes, she noticed that she could feel a very slight tremor travel through the concrete floor. This lead to the discovery of something remarkable: Elephants could communicate by emitting low-frequency rumbles which could travel through the ground without making any sound at all.

If you enjoy zoos, but are not sure which ones to support and which to stay away from, do what I do: ONLY support AZA-accredited zoos and registered non-profit rescues centers. Avoid non-accredited zoos, and any rescue center which is not a registered non-profit. All AZA zoos will state their affiliation with the AZA and the Species Survival Plan on their websites, so you can look them up before you even leave your house.

The lion above was photographed at the Wildlife Safari Park in Bandon, Oregon. He has been there for ages and shares his enclosure with an ancient old female. They have no grass to walk on, just gravel, and aside from a few driftwood logs to rub against, they have no engaging features in their enclosure whatsoever.

I hate to support roadside zoos, but made the exception in order to take these photos.
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InNaturesImage Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2013  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
I know that the few zoos I do visit are dedicated to conservation and raising animals that would otherwise be defenseless if released back into the wild. Never the less, they have such extraordinary exhibits that almost show to being exactly like their wild homes. Beautiful things.
It really is heartbreaking to see zoos with concrete floors and little to no natural settings, poor attention and care to the animals. Why?
Thank you for this post.
CameronFedora Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2013  Student General Artist
I'm so glad that the Bronx zoo is accredited! Now I can go there and not feel guilty! :)
duchessaLaura Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
As someone going into the zoo field, I can really say thank you for saying this.

Even as a zookeeper in training, I get a lot of crap from people who hate zoos.

AZA is the main advisory group for the United States, but there are other advisory groups that take pride in making sure species are protected.

WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums), BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums), ZAA (Zoological Association of America), and IMATA (International Marine Mammal Trainers Association) are some of the big ones.

All it takes is a bit of research, and you can find a plethora of information on them.

And, as an aside, a comment before was bashing on Sea World (I'm not a fan of them either, honestly, but I'd be lying if I said they didn't have a great conservation program)...? Sea World, DAK, Busch Gardens. All of those big-name parks that make hundreds of thousands a year? They are the heart of in situ conservation.

And, yes I really don't like the fact that they keep cetations for entertainment purposes, but that is something that almost needs to happen.

As much as it would be amazing to just throw information at guests, you have to entertain them first and foremost. It's entertainment, and then education. Once they are interested, they will want to learn about an animal, and perhaps do something about saving them.

Or, that is what the instructor for my Intro to Zoo and Aquarium told us, and he's been working in zoos his entire life... :)

PunkyPug89 Featured By Owner May 1, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank you for taking the time to educate people who are unaware of what good zoos really are about. They sit there and get all dramatic with "animals should be free!!" and my response is, if it wasn't for zoos some species would be extinct by now.
ForgottenDreamsSF Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2012
Minnesota Zoo does a great job of taking care of their animals. They have one of the rarest birds there too
pandapaw03 Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2011
I totally agree with this. AZA accredited zoos are a major aspect of conservation and the survival of endangered species.
LupusLycaon9653 Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
that's just terrible, i feel so sad for that lion and thanks for telling us about the good AZA zoos
NaturePunk Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2011  Professional Artisan Crafter
No problem! It amazes me that more people aren't aware of the difference between roadside and accredited zoos, so I do my best to spread the word.
Vrolokya Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2011
In agreement with your words.
NaturePunk Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2011  Professional Artisan Crafter
Thanks! :D
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