The changing role of Zoos – Part 1


For thousands of years…yes thousands…zoos that probably were not called like that, were mere collections of exotic animals; for the Egyptians and other empires it was a way of showing power and wealth. Later during the 19th and 20th centuries it became a source of pride for cities around the world, but still, animals were caged and displaced from their environments. During the second half of the 20th century, people began to notice and protest against this “unnatural” situation demanding the return of these animals where they belong, to their habitats.

The Cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world. Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, some of its subspecies are actually Critically Endangered. This wonderful specimen is a guest at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
The Cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world. Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, some of its subspecies are actually Critically Endangered. This wonderful specimen is a guest at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Ironically, almost at the same time, zookeepers and conservationist began to notice that many of the species thriving on zoos were barely surviving in the wild. In fact in some cases the numbers in captivity were becoming greater than those in the wild. Faced with the reality that zoos were caring for some of the most precious cargo on earth, scientists and conservationists from around the world began discussing this whole new role for zoos that not only involved ensuring that the animals were taken care but most importantly, the survival of the species.

The days of just collecting wild species were over. Besides trying to recreate the natural habitats where these animals thrive, zoos began to work towards helping these endangered species to breed and procreate in captivity with the hope of one day being able to release them back into the wild.

But this is just one part of the work needed to protect these animals, and zoos can not do everything…other important aspects of species survival need to take place, so the wonderful work most zoos are doing today doesn’t go to waste.

Another illustrious guest of National Zoo in Washington DC is this giant panda. Another endangered species that depends on zoos around the world for its survival.
Another illustrious guest of the National Zoo in Washington DC is this giant panda. Another endangered species that depends on zoos around the world for its survival.
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