The Importance of Zoos and Aquariums

The Importance of Zoos and Aquariums

How responsible, accredited, zoological facilities are imperative to the well-being of our society and the conservation of wildlife and wild places.
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In light of recent events at the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society, and previous fatal events at SeaWorld, Zoo Knoxville, and other zoological facilities in recent history, the integrity of zoos are often called into question. Animal right's activists and "arm chair" activists alike fervently declare that all zoos and aquariums should be shut down and all the wildlife in human care released into the species' natural habitats or to sanctuaries. However, zoological facilities such as zoos and aquariums are important resources for the general public, the wildlife in human care, researchers and behaviorists, as well as the wildlife and wild places represented by the institution.

There is no doubt that zoos have a dark, not-so-distant past. In addition to wildlife, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, humans were often displayed. Such exhibitions were called "ethnological expositions" with intent of drawing a deep line between the "civilized" European societies and "primitive" African and Southeast Asian societies.

(Ota Benga, a human exhibit. Source: Wikipedia)

Up until the mid 19th century, zoos were private, meant only for the eyes of the rich and powerful. As interest in the natural world began to expand and science entered a new era of naturalism and ethology (the study of animal behavior), zoological facilities began to bring in exotic wildlife from all over the world to urban areas. Less about education and conservation, early zoos were centered around the idea of getting the public as close to these animals as possible. Non-human animals were considered little more than props placed down by a creator to serve the needs, whims and aesthetic pleasure of the curators and the general public. This resulted in small, barren cages, where animals could be fed and pet through the bars.

(Source: belfastzoo.co.uk)

Zoos have since come a long way. As research began to exemplify the intelligence of the animals in their care and the idea that human beings could in fact cause significant damage to wildlife populations (an idea previously widely dismissed), the perception of non-human animals began to change, as did the way and reason for which we exhibit them. Due to such research, both on animals in their natural habitat as well as those in human care, zoological institutions are vastly different than they were 116 years ago at the turn of the 20th century. Small metal cages and bars have been replaced by enclosures that represent and replicate a natural environment and provide daily enrichment for the animals they house. The animals themselves are no longer mere playthings or trophies picked and chosen for aesthetics, but ambassadors for their species.

(A male African Lion [Panthera leo leo] roaring in the middle of his carefully-cultivated habitat, meant to simulate a plains environment at the Bronx Zoo in Bronx, NY. Source: Brooke Dolega.)

In the United States, since the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act in 1966 and according to the document, facilities wishing to use non-human animals "in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers" must comply with a set of federal standards for animal care to ensure welfare of the animals. As our understanding of the cognitive and emotional capabilities of non-human animals has grown since it's legislation, the document has been reviewed, edited, and adjusted in accordance with new moral and ethical standards. As well as complying with the Animal Welfare Act, zoos in the United States must also be inspected and licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Additional inspection, certifications and licensure may also be required depending on the species exhibited, including the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Act. Such thorough documentation is necessary for both the health and well being of the animals and the safety of their caretakers.

(A grizzly bear [Ursus arctos] at the Bronx Zoo in Bronx, NY, surveys its habitat from a raised rock plateau. Source: Brooke Dolega)

In North America, zoos and aquaria can also submit for accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (commonly referred to as the AZA). The Association of Zoos and Aquariums was founded in 1924. Since then, it has become the leading source of accreditation that a zoo or aquarium in North America can hold. For the past 92 years, the organization has been a leader in advancing the quality and purpose of zoos and aquariums through promotion of education, conservation, scientific research, and public interaction and engagement. They exemplify the standard of environment for wildlife in human care. To go to an AZA accredited facility is to be sure you are visiting an ethical, informative, and compassionate facility.

(Digital stamp of accreditation by the AZA that can be found on websites of accredited zoo and aquaria. Source: aza.org)

There are high standards and strict stipulations that an institution must comply with to be certified by the AZA. Each of these stipulations represents an essential component that benefits society, wildlife, and wild places as a whole.

First and foremost, the care and well being of the animals at the institution must be top-notch. The animals exhibited at zoos and aquariums are not simply there for aesthetics. Each and every animal is an ambassador for its entire species, as well as its natural environment. The animals are treated as such. Their exhibits are expertly cultivated to simulate the landscape which their wild counterparts inhabit, and are provided with environmental enrichment daily to ensure the physical, cognitive, social, and sensory stimulation that their wild habitats supply-minus the major stressors incorporated with everyday life in "the wild" such as unstable food supply and disease. Each animal receives a wholesome, nutritious diet and expert medical care. Their caretakers are well-educated and dedicated individuals whose main job is to work for the animals, not just with the animals.

("Polar Frontier" Exhibit at the Columbus Zoo provides both a terrestrial and aquatic environment for its polar bears, which are considered "Marine Mammals" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Source: nassal.com)

Humans are tactile creatures with an amazing propensity for compassion. However, that compassion is often not founded from textbooks or television shows. Most find it difficult to care about a species halfway around the world or to worry about the destruction of land they have never stepped foot on. Zoos and aquariums facilitate a connection between those who may never leave their country, or even their home state. Keepers, caretakers, trainers, and educators at these institutions provide insight into the wild world, as well as inform the general public on actions that can be taken at home to help preserve the wild counterparts of the zoo's ambassadors. A popular saying amongst conservationists, naturalists, and other scientists alike is one by Senegalese forestry engineer, Baba Dioum: In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand what we are taught. Making a connection with an animal enacts compassion. That compassion for a species you might not have otherwise ever known about until the news headline reads that it has gone extinct, compels you to care about what happens to the animals' wild counterparts and more willing to work toward conserving wild places.

(A Siamang, [Symphalangus syndactylus] at the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society in West Palm Beach, FL, sits on a log in its exhibit, looking for insects to snack on. Source: Brooke Dolega)

Research is also an essential part of a zoo or aquarium's institution as a whole. Many animal rights' groups may suggest that any research done in a zoological facility is not valid, because the environment is controlled. However, field research can be extremely difficult to conduct. The environment may not be suited to long term study, behaviors may be missed, or there might not be enough animals for verification of observations made. A zoo or aquarium environment allows for both the observation and verification of behaviors, as well as to view and experiment with behaviors that might not naturally be seen (such as recognition in mirrors). The information gathered from these observations and experiments benefit both the livelihood of the animals in human care, as well as their wild counterparts. Such research has lead to the better understanding of non-human animal cognition and sentience. This leads to both better care for the animals in human care as well as the advancement of societal views on the natural world.


(An Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin [Tursiops truncates] undergoes a test of object permanence at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL. Learn more here. Source: dolphins.org.)

Conservation is at the heart of zoos and aquariums. Though education and research are important components, population management and environmental protection is key. Many zoos contribute to global efforts. Examples include the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society. The WCS, which oversees the Bronx, Prospect Park, Queens, and Central Park Zoo as well as the New York Aquarium, also has "satellite" organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the world's oceans. The Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society works with projects in Bolivia and Malaysia.

In addition to global conservation projects, members of the AZA also contribute to the Species Survival Plan, or "SSP". The SSP was established to create genetically strong populations of at-risk, threatened, and endangered wildlife.

(The logo for an animal species in a SSP program. Source: rosamondgiffordzoo.org)

Habitat loss is a leading cause of loss of species and diversity and many species currently live in greatly reduced or fragmented habitats. In case of human-related destruction or a natural disaster, there are populations in human care that could be used to reintroduce and reestablish wild populations when the environment is restored.

(A Malayan Tiger [Panthera tigris jacksoni] exhibiting claw-marking behavior on a log in his exhibit. With only 250 - 300 individuals in the wild, Malayan Tigers have an SSP with 64 individuals in the program in the United States. Source: Brooke Dolega)

Zoos and aquariums are critical to society, to wildlife conservation, and to wildlife research. Unlike many animal right's activists may try to convince others, zoological facilities are not the problem, but a solution. With wild places shrinking by an estimated 18 million acres per year, poaching and black market trade of wildlife parts still rampant despite the broadening legislation to combat it, and illegal pet trade and collection, zoos and aquariums are not a "prison" as some animal right's activists may suggest, but a haven for the animal ambassadors, for behavioral and physiological research, conservation of species, and preservation of natural habitat.

There are "bad" zoos out there. Roadside attractions, circuses, and "backyard zoos" or "backyard menageries" are akin to the zoos of the turn of the century. They contribute nothing to wildlife conservation, research, or education. Rather they focus on entertainment, fiscal gain, and greed. Such facilities should not be encouraged or supported.

To ensure one's entrance fee is going to conservation, education, and research, make sure you are visiting an AZA-Accredited or Affiliated institution. This information can be found on the institution's website, or you can check out the AZA's complete list of accredited facilities as well as a complete list of certified related facilities in North America. For international facilities, look for AZA-allied accreditations.

Cover Image Credit: Brooke Dolega

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I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.
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Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.

Why?

Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

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So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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I Spoke With A Group Of DACA Recipients And Their Stories Moved Me To Tears

An experience that forever changed my perspective on "illegal" immigrants.

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I thought I was just filming about a club meeting for a project, but when I entered the art-filled room located in a corner of the student common area, I knew this experience would be much more than a grade for a class.

I was welcomed in by a handful of people wearing various Arizona State hoodies and T-shirts that were all around my age. They were college students, like myself, but something felt different when talking to them. They were comforting, shy at first, and more driven than the peers that I usually meet.

As I began to look around the room, I noticed a good amount of art, murals, religious pieces, and a poster that read, "WE STAND WITH DREAMERS." The club was meant for students at ASU that are either undocumented or DACA recipients.

Photo by Amanda Marvin

As a U.S. citizen college student, you typically tend to think about your GPA, money, and dating. As a DACA recipient college student, there are many more issues crowding your brain. When I sat down at a club meeting for students my age dealing with entirely different problems as me, my eyes were opened to bigger issues.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program allows for individuals that crossed the border as children to be protected from deportation and to go to school or work. Commonly known as DREAMers, these individuals are some of the most hard-working, goal-oriented and focused people I have met, and that's solely because they have to be.

In order to apply to be a DACA recipient, it is required that the applicant is attending school with a high school diploma, or a military veteran, as well as have a clean criminal record. While being a DACA recipient does not mean that you can become a permanent citizen of the United States, it allows for opportunities that may not be offered in their home country.

It's no secret that the United States has dealt with immigration in a number of ways. From forming new policies to building a wall on our nation's border, we see efforts to keep immigrants from entering the U.S. every day. But what about the people who are affected?

As the club members and I began a painting activity regarding where we came from and how we got to where we are today, I began to feel the urge to cry.

Photo by Amanda Marvin

One girl described the small Mexican town that she grew up in and the family that still resides there. She went on to talk about how important education is to her family and so much so that it was the cause of her family's move to the United States when she was still a child. Her voice wavered when she talked about the changing immigration policies that prevent her from seeing her family in Mexico.

Another member of the club, a boy with goals of becoming a journalist, talked of his depression and obstacles regarding growing up as an undocumented student. Once he was told by his father that he was illegal, he began to set himself apart from his peers and became someone he did not think he would ever be.

All of my worries seemed small in comparison to theirs, and I felt a pang of regret for realizing I take my own citizenship for granted every single day.

Terminating the policy would lead to the displacement of about 800,000 people. We tend to forget about the human aspect of all of this change, but it's the most important part.

For more information about this club, visit https://www.facebook.com/USEEASU/

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