Friday, April 30, 2010

Zoos: Good? or Bad?

As you may know, FireMan & I volunteer at our local zoo, cleaning the manatee tank.

Last year, after cleaning the tank, we walked around the zoo, for the first time as a couple. I always have mixed reactions visiting zoos. I love them, because I love animals and love seeing all the different animals up close. I hate them, because I hate that the animals are confined, often in habitats much, much smaller than anything they would have in the wild. I hate that there are animals that will never know what it is like to live their life in the wild, that they will never know what it is like to have a "normal" life.

These mixed emotions led to a conversation with FireMan last year. See, we started working with the manatees because we like to scuba dive, and we thought it would be a fun experience. Which it is, although it is also very hard work! But what we weren't expecting, was to learn how the zoo is instrumental to helping this endangered species. Because of its protected status, manatees are only found in three zoos in the United States, and we are blessed to have one of them near us. In fact, a zoo does not get manatees just so they can be on exhibit. They must be part of a rehabilitation program.

The Cincinnati Zoo recently lost two of its beloved manatees. Not lost, really, they are being returned to the wild. One had been an orphan, the other had been injured by boat propellers. They came to the zoo to be rehabilitated, and once the keepers were satsified that they were ready, they were returned to Florida to be released. One is already back in the wild, the other is still being prepared for release at a park in Florida. Also, when a manatee is released, they are outfitted with a GPS transmitter, which allows for them to be tracked, not only to make sure that their release is going well and they are adjusting, but it is thru the information gathered from these transmitters that much knowledge is gained about the animal, allowing for a greater awareness of their situation, and what we, as men, can do to protect them in the wild.

We recently obtained two new manatees, one is another orphan. Both of them were on the brink of starvation due to the loss of habitat as a result of the cold snap in Florida this past winter. It is anticipated that they will only be with us for a year, before being returned to the wild.

And this is just the example of one animal species, and their story of how the zoo helps them. There are countless more.

We are fortunate to be near one of the top zoos in the country. The Cincinnati Zoo, besides having outstanding exhibits, is known for its efforts to assist endangered species. They have a renowned reproduction program, and work to bring different species back from the brink of extinction.

And yet, with all this goodness, it still breaks my heart to see animals in such relatively tiny habitats. Take the lions, for example. One of my favorites. Yes, they have what appears to be a huge enclosure. But any enclosure is too small for the king of the plains. How can any size enclosure compare to roaming the plains of Africa? How can being fed dead meat compare to running down your own prey?

The answer is: it just doesn't.

And yes, I am sympathetic. I feel bad for them. I wish I could let them all loose, LOL!

But after much discussion, with FireMan & others, and reading about the Cincinnati Zoo, and what I knew previously, and the new knowledge that I gained, I think, from my perspective anyway, that it's worth it.

For me, when I was able to sit back and look at the big picture, to look past these individual creatures, and see how them being here can serve as an amabassador to the public, how they can encourage us to do what we can to preserve the natural habitats around us, how one animal in a zoo might save a thousand animals in the wild.... well, I think it's worth it.

Just as a small example, FireMan & myself. We got started volunteering because we thought it might be fun. But then we fell in love with the gentle manatees. We've since been to Florida, snorkelling with the manatees in the wild, and learning more about their habitat destruction from a dive master who works with the local manatee rescue in Florida. We have become attached. We want to do more to help these animals, and to spread the word of how awesome they are and how we need to protect them. Such gentle giants!
I doubt that would have ever happened without the zoo. We might have read something and been concerned, but to see it, to have that interaction, and to gain that sympathy for their plight... I don't think that would have happened without the zoo.

And stories like ours abound. More people, gaining more sympathy, being compelled to action... all because of zoos.

So... assuming a zoo is doing what they can to provide for the animals, to assist in their well-being, both as individuals and as a species (because yes, there are unfortunately "zoos" that are little more than a dog pound for exotic animals... Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!), but as long as a zoo is constantly working on improvement, I think the good outweighs the bad.

So go to the zoo. Buy a ticket. Support your zoos! And if you're interested in volunteering, just ask! There's plenty that can be done, many duties don't even require any special skills!

Now, everyone... go have a great day!

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I Love the zoo! They are doing such wonderful things not only for endangered animals, but through conservation. I agree get out and support the zoo!

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