The zoo: where you had your favorite childhood field trips, where your family goes on a lazy Sunday to relax, and where you go with your significant other in the winter to get a cute picture under all the lights. Am I right?
But do you really know what you are paying for when you are going to the zoo? Conservation? Education? Research? Think again.
To me, zoo's are a bittersweet place. Its amazing to see the animals up close and personal (no matter how miserable they look) and feel like its helpful towards "saving" a species as a whole, even if that means individual animals have to spend their whole lives in cages. I see the big picture, but am affected by the in-the-moment mentality.
That's the thing though--it was about seeing the animals, spending time with family, and getting a cute picture. It wasn't about educating myself on their natural habitats, researching their common behaviors and conditions, or conserve their land and their homes from all parts of the world. The zoo is a social gathering, even on field trips, and was more about making sure I got to all the exhibits to get whatever question answered on my sheet to fill out.
"A few years ago Los Angeles Zoo spent $42 million on a new, six-acre enclosure for Asian elephants...[but] soon found itself in court defending accusations that the exhibit was inhumane," (Take Part). The money going into this exquisite exhibit, to keep these animals enriched and at an attempt to feel like they are living in a "natural" environment, doesn't even meet the requirements. $42 million dollars, and it wasn't even up to standards. This wasn't working towards saving the species, or conservation, this was just a way to get more tourists to view another exhibit opening--to get enough profit to repeat the process all over again with another animals home.
That's not to say that I'm not happy that these animals have a more "wild" environment and are able to enjoy this new place with their natural behaviors, but we have to ask ourselves at what cost?
"Zoo directors admit they are failing the animals that are their raison d’être...bearing about as much resemblance to the natural world as Disneyland has to Detroit," (Take Part). The zoo's are failing. The conservation, education, and research from our zoo's aren't doing enough to help, to save, or to preserve. They are keeping their animals alive, yes, but not growing that population enough for it come back in numbers. Poaching, deforestation, and threatened wildlife numbers, are causing a severe drop in animal populations. This extinction rate is 1,000 times more than it has ever been before. The zoo is a last resort in saving these animals.
Zoo's can and do raise money, educate, and are involved in research--just not as much as we could hope for. "Every year, 180 million people come through their doors—more people than attend every NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB game combined—with their wallets already open," (Take Part). They have the money coming in to make a bigger difference than only 1% of the budget going to conservation. Yes, thats right: 1-stinking-percent! When you go to a zoo--you're paying for food vendors and Dippin' Dots, a ride on the carousel, and basically everything else more so than animal conservation!
"A boost to 10 percent would send $800 million a year to wildlife, which according to the Wildilfe Conservation Network and Jane Goodall Institute currently receives 0.1 percent of international philanthropy. (Pets get more.)," (Take Part). Now, I understand people love their pets as family, but you're paying to go to the zoo, and still spending more on your pet that day putting no money towards it. This is not animal conservation--this is not giving back to those species in the wild, this is not taking on the responsibility of doing more than reproducing populations, and this is not introducing species back into the wild.
And why isn't that happening? The animals who are introduced into the wild, after their populations in the zoo have grown, aren't acting "natural". They are behaving as they did in the zoo-used to people surrounding their everyday life, used to being given food at certain time, and used to showing off to tourists. Sure, they are back in the wild, but they aren't wild.
If you really want to conserve wildlife, go their natural homes and join a program to stop poaching, end hunting, and halt deforestation. You have to go to the animals, in their natural habitat, to truly understand the full devastation that is occurring in the real world, instead of standing outside a pane of glass looking in. Bringing animals into captivity shouldn't be considered conservation--protecting their habitat should be. Paying to maintain captive animals habitats shouldn't be considered conservation--donating money to stop poachers should be. Watching animals behind a ten foot fence shouldn't be considered conservation--planting trees to decrease the rate of deforestation should be.
Think about what you are paying for when you walk into a zoo--conservation, education, research? Yes, 1% of your money going towards your family outing, or your cute Instagram picture with your boyfriend, or for your school field trip, 1% will go towards conservation. But thats all--1%.