Should you go to the zoo?

The zoo is a popular place to visit at any age and at any time of the year. But are zoos helping or harming the animals housed? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a zoo as “a place where many kinds of animals are kept so that people can see them.” Zoos educate people about different kinds of animals, but the rights of the individual animals housed there are arguable.

Polar bears play in their environment at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. (Photo by Jeffrey F. Bill)
Polar bears play in their environment at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. (Photo by Jeffrey F. Bill)

A zoo enables people to view animals that they normally would not see. Visitors are also able to learn about animals and their habits. Zookeepers and tour guides are available to answer any questions visitors may have about the animals. Visitors gain an awareness of a life other than their own by learning about different species of animals and can learn about endangered species as well.

Children are frequent visitors at zoos, but seeing an animal out of its normal habitat is exciting at any age. Zoos provide a memorable experience for children standing a few feet away from their favorite animal. Educating children about animals at a young age allows them to remember the animals for the rest of their lives.

Zoos are often able to keep endangered animals safe from harmful environments. Zoos can also rehabilitate animals and give them a space to grow healthy again. Animals are frequently bred at zoos because they may not have mated if left in their natural habitats.

Although animals may be safer in a zoo’s environment, they are away from their natural habitat. The area afforded the animal is similar to the original environment, but most times it is not the same. An animal’s original environment is usually much more expansive and does not have walls or fences. Temperatures and climates often differ from the animal’s original habitat as well.

During a recent visit to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, I considered the arguments both for and against zoos. I enjoyed observing various animals and learning about them, and saw many curious children excited to learn about the animals there. But there were also arctic foxes and a polar bear in a 60 degree Fahrenheit environment, quite different from their original ecosystem. Giraffes paced back and forth in a small corral outdoors. Dozens of children were shouting at and petting the goats just in the course of one day. Educating people about animals and keeping animals genuine in their true environments is a balance that is tough for zoos to undertake.