America’s Zoos: Entertainment to Conservation.
The family stops to let the children ride the mini train and take pictures together under the tree. They walk hand-in-hand toward the exit, stopping first at the gift shop where they each splurge on a treat to remind them of the day’s adventure. Although this may sound like a typical scene from the local amusement park, it’s actually the city zoo. All that is forgotten is walking from cage to cage, watching the anxious animals pace back and forth in their closed-in prisons. Their cages feel cold and desolate. (Hope, 1994)
The concrete floor provides no warmth, and the atmosphere is sterile. The animals do not appear very happy in this closed-in environment. Who are these anxious animals? They are the common everyday animals any child could name: bears, tigers, elephants, and monkeys. What about the rest of the world’s unique creatures? Hundreds of species are in danger of becoming extinct, and conservation is needed.
Extinction is a permanent issue. The treatment of all animals and their rights is important. As concern for the world’s animals becomes more prominent in the news, zoos rise up to meet the challenge. Animal rights and their treatment, regardless of species, have been brought to attention and positive movements made. While the number of endangered species grows, zoos attempt to do their part in conservation.
Both in and out of the park, zoos and their scientists do their best to help these species. Efforts out in the field, within the United States as well as other countries, are currently in progress. The question lies in the worthiness of these efforts. Is the conservation successful? Are these efforts being done for the right reasons? Will zoos remain as a form of family entertainment, or will the enjoyment of the patrons become unimportant? While it is obvious that things are changing, the eventual goals might not be so clear.
As the focus shifts from entertainment to conservation, the zoo’s efforts are being examined both within the park and beyond, and their motives are being judged. As cities become more urbanized, it becomes increasingly difficult to have firsthand contact with nature. Time schedules are busier, and few can afford to spend an entire day driving out to the countryside. City zoos have taken over that connection to nature, especially for city dwellers.
Afternoon visits to the zoo became a fun form of family entertainment (Arrandale, 1990). Even though the bars separated the two worlds, it allowed people to see the animals. When this interaction began to take place, people examined these institutions for their concern for the animals. The intentions were obvious: to provide the public with the ability to be around these creatures. But were their methods ethical? Animals were displayed for the general public’s enjoyment (Diamond, 1995). As one critically judges the physical environment of these animals, they can personally decide whether ethics were compromised.
Some argued that zoos provide a safe home and regular meals for animals, making them happy. However, others argue that these creatures are caged and unable to thrive in the wild (Burke, 1990). Zoos are under observation to ensure humane treatment of animals, as animal welfare has become a concern in our country. This group should not be confused with the animal rights movement. The animal welfare movement aims to improve the way institutions like city zoos provide for animals without using violence (Burke, 1990).
Honoring conservation efforts, the goal is to ensure that animals are cared for with the highest levels of concern, both physically and nutritionally (Diamond, 1995). Human rights are established in the form of written laws, and animal rights activists speak on behalf of these rights (Burke, 1990). While some views, such as fighting for the equality of animals and humans, may seem extreme, it is undeniable that animal rights must remain an important issue when providing care at zoos (Burke, 1990). The days of zoos simply providing a recreational place for families to spend their afternoons together are over. The purpose of zoos has changed considerably since their formation, with a shift from pure entertainment to education and conservation as a direct result of growing awareness.