The American Zoo Debate: Sanctuary or Threat?
by Amy Lignor
The zoo has always been a family fun excursion. Here, in habitats that are as close to the ones in the outside world as possible (except for the aspect of freedom, of course), people can come and visit some of the most stunning creatures this earth has to offer. One such place, the San Diego Zoo, has even grown into one of the most popular attractions ever seen. This nonprofit zoo is more than respected and literally brought in $30 million dollars more than it spent last year alone.
However, environmentalists are still not all on board with the idea that a zoo is a sanctuary, or even a “kind” place for animals to be raised. Their protests have also become prominent over the years and caused many tides to turn. Just last Sunday, the San Diego Zoo began its second century right smack dab in the middle of these public debates and controversies. So will this particular zoo, after garnering all that great respect, fall like others have before them? Or should the public take a breath and really look at everything the San Diego Zoo is doing?
Let’s look at the changes that have happened over the past few years. When the documentary “Blackfish” was released, anger surged among people in the U.S. They called for SeaWorld to close or stop their captive breeding of killer whales. SeaWorld’s largest attraction is their Shamu “operations,” so to speak, but they had to bow to the rising tide of anger and stop the breeding of killer whales in captivity. They also took out the theatrical shows in its marine parks, replacing them with orca encounters based more on education about the creature and not just sideshow gimmicks.
After SeaWorld went through their ugly mess, the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced their plans to transport the eight bottlenose dolphins from tanks at the Aquarium to a large seaside sanctuary. That way, the treatment of these marine creatures would be “corrected.” This sanctuary would be the first of its kind, and was badly needed in order to quell protests and save the animals.
But the creatures of the deep were not the only protests happening. The age-old, well-renowned Ringling Bros. Circus stopped the use of elephants during its performances after 145-years because of protests. In addition, the Costa Rican government closed up two public zoos, sending 400 animals they had on-site to rescue centers, or straight back into the wild.
A young child crawled past a barricade at the Cincinnati Zoo only to then fall into a moat surrounding a gorilla exhibit – causing the zoo to then shoot and kill one of their gorillas. Now, just last week, another gorilla escaped its pen in the U.K. and got out into the zoo, itself, causing visitors to race for buildings with closed doors to avoid being hurt. Because of these things, zoos keep taking hits.
Now, on to more positive facts. Despite all the pain, protests and controversies, zoos actually remain quite popular. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums states that attendance continues to rise at its 215-member facilities, with the 100-acre San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park near Escondido accounting for 5 million.
It is very possible the public still loves the zoo because places like the San Diego Zoo are moving away from their own type of theatrical entertainment to focus more on conservation and learning how to better take care of their species in captivity.
Currently, the zoo has 140 research projects operating across 80 countries. The projects involve everything from saving African elephants to helping other endangered species come back from the brink of extinction. Part of the zoo is even a “Frozen Zoo.” A place where genetic material from 10,000 animals is stored. It’s also active in the Species Survival Plan, which is a program that moves animals among facilities to improve their genetic diversity and long-term sustainability.
More zoos should be following in the footsteps of San Diego. Even in the last month the zoo reported a couple of real “firsts” in births. A pair of North Sulawesi Babirusa piglets, a swine species considered “on the brink of extinction” because of habitat destruction; and four black tree monitor babies, which are reptiles native to the Aru Islands of Papua New Guinea – a species that could die out because of the logging and pet trade industries – were born in captivity.
Yes, the debates will continue on whether or not all animals should be released into the wild and all zoos should be closed because they are a threat to wildlife and not actual sanctuaries. But the San Diego Zoo is showing a different path to walk down. Animals are dying every day from illegal hunting, habitat devastation, and more, and this is one zoo that intends on helping species survive and thrive. So before protesting, learn the facts about this particular location that has spent 100 years fighting for the animals…and, hopefully, will continue for at least a hundred more.
Source: Baret News