Every year, on December 27th, visitors flock to their local zoo for National Visit a Zoo Day. Penguins, giraffes, polar bears, and more are some of the most popular attractions in modern zoos. The animals represent a larger world of diverse wildlife, and the zoo is the first place many people, young and old, experience their first moments of natural wonder.
For zoos, however, the day is one of celebration as it reminds visitors of the importance of the conservation and education work happening there.
But how did zoos become homes to animal conservation work as well as a favorite activity for kids and adults of all ages?
History of Zoos
The first modern zoo was built in 1793 in Paris. However, zoos have been around much longer and were known as menageries.
The earliest menageries have been dated back to ancient Egypt. Many menageries were used for storing exotic animals for fights or other entertainment purposes. The animals in menageries were usually property of royal families and seen as objects rather than living creatures.
During the Age of Enlightenment, zoos took on a new role and began to introduce the scientific purposes that we see in zoos today. These zoos were created for scientific studies, but also allowed guests to help offset the costs of animal research. A balance of entertainment and zoological studies, the idea of a zoo became popular and spread throughout the world.
Today, zoos exist across the world as places adults and children can go to learn more about the fantastic animals we live with on planet Earth.
How do zoos contribute to conservation efforts? And how do we know zoos are conservation-minded?
Zoos and Conservation
First, zoos are some modern humans’ only exposure to nature. According to Wild Welfare, 51% of the world’s population lives in cities that are disconnected from nature. This is where zoos and aquariums have the most impact — they bring a passion for conservation and nature to urban populations.
Zoos run by organizations whose mission statement includes conservation ideals are usually both ethically run as well as active participants in research and conservation efforts. These are usually run with non-profit designation, have education information posted with each exhibit, and hire individuals with backgrounds in biology, conservation, or zoology.
Many modern zoos have focused conservation programs that aim to uphold the following pillars of conservation work: practice, advocacy, and research.
Zoos work on conservation practice by fostering environments for captive breeding and species reintroduction programs that help boost the populations of threatened or endangered species. They also allocate some funding to conservation programs in the wild.
Advocacy is another large part of many zoos’ mission statements. By providing education, exhibits, and events they are inspiring the next generation of animal advocates and researchers by helping them reconnect and learn about the animals on display. This also introduces visitors to the idea of stewardship and reminds them that ultimately humans are in charge of ensuring animals’ futures.
Conservation also happens through research. Zoos focus their research projects on animals’ biological, sociological, and behavioral dynamics. They are some of the leading research institutions for research in breeding and animal captivity. Many zoos publish their findings in renowned scientific publications.
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) awards accreditation to zoos that not only participate in conservation efforts, but also maintain the highest levels of animal welfare and care. Zoos with AZA accreditation are not only the best for animals, but also the best for learning about the natural world.
Go Visit Your Local Zoo!
Now that you know why we celebrate National Visit the Zoo Day, go out and do it! Visit your local zoo and find out about the research and conservation efforts taking place in your own neighborhood.
Who knows, maybe this visit could ignite a new passion for animals and inspire your own work in wildlife conservation!
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