Zoos are places where you can spend a quality afternoon with your family and friends admiring the beauties and diversities mother nature has given us. On the more technical aspect, a zoo is a facility that houses animals within enclosures, displays them to the public and it’s a place where the animals are bred. The term ‘ZOO’ stands short for zoological park or zoological garden, and can also be named animal park or menagerie.
The whole history of zoos started with the royal menageries, in other means private collections of mighty world rulers that used their authority and power to collect mostly exotic animals from conquered lands for their own pleasure. This phenomenon dates back to 3500 BCE where the oldest animal collection was excavated in Hierakonpolis, Egypt. The collection was mostly confined to wildcats, baboons, elephants, hippopotami, and hartebeests.
Other known royal collectors of animals were: the Middle Assyrian Empire’s King Ashur-bel-kala who created botanical and animal gardens in 11th century BCE, and Tanki, a Chinese Empress who built the so-called ‘house of deer’ in 2nd century BCE. King Solomon (Kingdom of Israel and Judah), King Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonia) and Alexander the Great also enjoyed their private animal collections.
Why zoos exist?
Of course, the obvious purpose of every zoological park is to serve the general public as an entertainment source and facility through which people can escape reality for e brief moment, and get educated during the stay. The educational part is especially important for children and this way they can learn more about different animals, even plants and develop respect and love for them.
The more complex part regarding the purpose of zoos consists of the activities for biodiversity conservation. These activities are maintained based on two postulates: quantitative and qualitative conservation of species and public education about the consequences of mother earth’s depletion.
The second postulate is achieved on a more enthusiastic level by addressing people using different educational programs and providing informational points in the zoo. The first one takes a bit more responsibility and cooperation between zoos on a worldwide scale. Inbreeding of species without the emergence of hereditary problems cannot be achieved if more zoos don’t work together. This necessity led to the formation of the EEP (Endangered Species Programmes) and the ESB (European Stud Books) in Europe. Furthermore, reputable and zoological parks continuously fund research with species preservation as the ultimate goal.
What are zoo vets doing?
The duties of a zoo vet don’t distinguish as much from any other veterinarian that works with companion or farm animals. Yet, they need to be specialists that received advanced training in the field of exotic wildlife species (reptiles, aquatic animals, parrots, elephants, lions, tigers, zebras, giraffes, rhinos etc.).
The usual duties include performing clinical examinations, taking samples, administering fluids, administering sedation, prescribing medications, cleaning teeth, performing surgery, taking x-rays and ultrasounds. The vet employed at the zoo must also supervise the veterinary technicians in the zoo and assist with breeding programs.
Endangered species vs. zoos
This is quite a controversial topic and different people have different opinions respectively. There are steady facts that some critically endangered species were saved by zoos that worked hard on the conservation which resulted in eliminating the risks of extinction. Some of them were even re-introduced in nature and still have a steady population numbers.
The Arabian Oryx was extinct in the wilderness and just a handful of representatives remained in captivity. Conservation efforts of a couple of zoos saved the species and today more than 1.000 animals roam the wilderness.
With only 27 birds left in the wild, the California Condor was on the step of extinction. The successful in-captivity breeding program saved the species and today there are thousands of these birds flying in the Californian skies.
As a result of human factors (poachers and loss of habitat) or disease outbreaks the following species were almost extinct, bred in captivity and made a comeback thanks to zoos: Przewalski’s Horse, Carroboree Frog, Bongo, Regent Honeyeater, Panamanian Golden Frog, Bellinger River Turtle, Golden Lion Tamarin and Amur Leopard.
Life in captivity for non-endangered species is a whole different topic on which you can feel free to state your opinions and suggestions. Most zoos tend to provide living conditions that reflect the natural ones as much as possible, still many human activists and organizations disagree on many points with the whole concept of zoological parks.
Fun facts about zoos
- In the 80’s a German shepherd named Gabi fought and defeated an escaped jaguar in the Belgrade (Serbia) zoo, thus saving the life of an employee.
- Between 2010 and 2014 a Japanese zoo did an unsuccessful attempt to mate a pair of hyenas. Later on, they realized that both animals were male.
- During the WWII, in order to prevent the spreading of venomous animals if a bombing occurred, the London zoo killed all of them. In the same zoo, in 1915 a bear cub arrived from Canada. A little boy fell in love with the bear and visited him regularly. The enormous love inspired his father A.A. Milne to write the stories about Winnie-the-Pooh. England has one more interesting story when a national park in the country got 19 guinea baboon as a gift from the Paris Zoo. The problem was that these animals didn’t understand English commands, but we fully able to react to French words. The only solution was for the English keepers to start learning French.
- German zoo tried to make gay penguin couples act heterosexually, but they did not respond well and were longing for their mates and were reunited at the end. In Berlin, the first bomb dropped by the Allies hit the zoo and the only elephant was killed.
Zoo parks are fun and entertaining places to spend time at. However, ordinary visitors must start thinking about how humanity affects nature and how can they contribute to saving the planet. The zoos offer a lot of information on the concrete steps to take so that the wonders we see and love in these types of facilities aren’t going to disappear in the wild.