Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


Can the role of Zoos in edu­ca­tion jus­tify their existence?

pub­lished 23 June 2013 | mod­i­fied 18 July 2015

Is there any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for keep­ing ani­mals, liv­ing beings, in strict cap­tiv­ity? A ques­tion that cre­ates debate right at the moment of pos­ing it. Many peo­ple have strong feel­ings against keep­ing ani­mals in cap­tiv­ity, and would like to ban the con­cept of “Zoos”. Oth­ers don’t give it any atten­tion as long as they are enter­tained when vis­it­ing the Zoo.

The mis­sion of well-​respected Zoos, those accred­ited as mem­bers of the global zoo­log­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion (WAZA) and/​or regional asso­ci­a­tions such as EAZA, AZA and ZAA, offi­cially addresses con­ser­va­tion, research, edu­ca­tion and recre­ation. The first two with regard to ecosys­tems and (endan­gered) ani­mal species, and the lat­ter two aim­ing at the Zoos’ visitors.

Since recre­ation means for the aver­age vis­i­tor that he wants to have a good time when vis­it­ing the Zoo, this is a caveat that Zoos have to deal with. To get the mes­sage across about the peril sit­u­a­tion of Planet Earth, the need for bet­ter pro­tec­tion of ecosys­tems and sav­ing endan­gered species, together with bet­ter under­stand­ing of these ecosys­tems and species, edu­ca­tion is the per­fect instru­ment of course.

For chil­dren the recre­ational part (enter­tain­ment) can sup­port the more seri­ous aspects of the Zoos’ mis­sion. In other words, learn­ing can be made fun. And many Zoos have suc­ceeded in devel­op­ing entertainment/​education pro­grammes for chil­dren that incor­po­rates the seri­ous mes­sage there is to tell. Whether or not this mes­sage is about to stay after the visit to the Zoo (do chil­dren increase their knowl­edge in a sus­tain­able man­ner?) is under debate. Dr Eric Jensen has pub­lished an inter­est­ing report in 2011 on the eval­u­a­tion of the edu­ca­tional impact of the ZSL Lon­don Zoo for­mal learn­ing pro­gramme. Regard­ing the debate on the impact of edu­ca­tional instru­ments of Zoos this PLOS Sci-​Ed blog is a must read, espe­cially the comments. wink

blogzoocartoonLet’s not linger on the enter­tain­ment and edu­ca­tion of chil­dren in Zoos too long, because many Zoos have estab­lished excel­lent ways to attract children’s atten­tion, includ­ing edu­ca­tion pro­grammes for the young. But what about the adults, the par­ents and grand-​parents that want to be edu­cated beyond the basic infor­ma­tion their (grand-)children are pro­vided with. Not all adults set­tle for some of those colour­ful car­toon­ish Zoo web­sites or infor­ma­tion leaflets, nor set­tle for brief infor­ma­tion. Adults shouldn’t even set­tle for the mere mes­sage that humankind is destroy­ing ecosys­tems and forc­ing species to the brink of extinc­tion. They should be pro­vided with back­ground infor­ma­tion and solu­tions about how they can con­tribute to decrease their impact on Planet Earth’s impaired sit­u­a­tion. For exam­ple, when they want to save orang­utans in Bor­neo which is caused by the exten­sive log­ging, Zoos should pro­vide a black­list of trop­i­cal woods that peo­ple should avoid pur­chas­ing. Or, when being explained that cli­mate change is dis­rupt­ing ecosys­tems, it should be accom­pa­nied by the mes­sage that we are caus­ing the cur­rent cli­mate change and how we can do some­thing about it (use less fos­sil fuels, etcetera).

This is where Zoos can influ­ence people’s atti­tude. This even jus­ti­fies that some spec­i­mens of (endan­gered) species are kept in cap­tiv­ity to help rais­ing aware­ness on the peril sit­u­a­tion of ecosys­tems and the world we live in. Pro­vided the enclo­sures are state-​of-​the-​art, and ani­mal wel­fare is ensured by meet­ing the free­doms from hunger and thirst, from dis­com­fort, from pain, injury and dis­ease, from fear and dis­tress, and to express nat­ural behav­iour (Bram­bell’s five free­doms, orig­i­nally devel­oped for farm ani­mals but became ubiq­ui­tous in the assess­ment of wel­fare for all ani­mals, includ­ing those kept in zoos).

A more com­pre­hen­sive and visu­alised pre­sen­ta­tion of my per­sonal view about the impor­tance of Zoos and the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for their exis­tence can be watched below:

Of course, there are Zoos which are able to pro­vide infor­ma­tion as requested by inter­ested vis­i­tors. For exam­ple by well edu­cated vol­un­teers that can answer many ques­tion, or by leaflets with exten­sive infor­ma­tion on the Zoo’s con­tri­bu­tion in con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes. But how many of these Zoos do you know?

Let’s be clear about this. When Zoos take their mis­sion seri­ously, which is a very mature mis­sion, they should take all adult vis­i­tors seri­ously, and address them with ded­i­cated and tar­geted infor­ma­tion that suit both the needs of the Zoo and the vis­i­tor. Do not get me wrong, I like to see chil­dren enjoy them­selves with enter­tain­ment pro­grammes while at the same time being taught impor­tant things about nature, but Zoos should give due con­sid­er­a­tion to the required level of infor­ma­tion for adults too. Adults are not chil­dren, and they influ­ence the world now, while the impact of chil­dren on Planet Earth can only be expected in due course!

(Source: Life is Good (chap­ter 8) by Jeremy Leon Hance, 2012; PLOS-​blogs Sci-​Ed; Acad​e​mia​.edu; Zoo Ani­mal by Geoff Hosey, Vicky Melfi, Sheila Pankhurst, 2009; Wikipedia)

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