"In the end, we will conserve only what we love; We will love only what we understand; We will understand only what we are taught"
I went to Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC today. I love going to zoos. While a part of me occasionally feels sorry for the animals living their lives in enclosures with people pressing their faces against the glass all day, every day, I also understand their importance. Most animals living in zoos arrived there through rescue or conservation efforts. Many of them would not survive in the wild, and in their new homes, they are given the best care possible.
Not only that, but without zoos, people would often never see the types of animals who live there, and as the quote above states, conservation efforts rely on generations of people being taught about wildlife so that they can understand, and therefore love the animals that need our protection.
The photo to the left is a koala, a marsupial native to Australia. The IUCN red list of threatened species lists koalas as vulnerable, which means that, being one step above being placed on the endangered species list, they are at high risk of extinction in the wild. Despite sleeping 19 hours a day, koalas need a great deal of space to survive. National Geographic estimates each koala needs access to approximately 100 trees to get the nutrients they need. They survive mostly on eucalyptus leaves, which is also where they get the majority of their water. With Australia's woodlands diminishing, the koala's habitat and ability to survive shrinks with them.
Gorillas are primates who live in rain forests in a number of African countries. They are listed as "critically endangered," which means they are at extreme risk for extinction in the wild. Although the mention of gorillas may bring about images of chest pounding and ferocious roars, gorillas are generally calm and not at all aggressive unless provoked. Poaching and the destruction of their habitat have had a devastating effect on gorilla populations, and unless something is done soon, the only gorillas left may very well be the ones in captivity.
While the zoo is a fun and exciting place to visit, and an excellent way to introduce your kids to a love of nature, there are a few things to keep in mind. I noticed more than one child slamming their fists against glass enclosures and shouting at animals, hoping they would perform in some way. The parents just stood by and watched. It is important to remember that, though the animals are living in enclosures, they are still wild animals and should be given the respect they deserve, no matter how safe you may feel on the other side of glass or a fence. The animals are there to be protected and admired. They are not there to put on a show for anyone's entertainment. So parents, please teach your children not to bang on the glass, not to press their faces and tongues (yes, I saw this today, too) against the glass. Teach them not to yell at the animals, and teach them not to shove other guests aside in their efforts to start hitting another animal's enclosure. The animals deserve to be afforded the respect to live their lives in peace, whether in the wild or in a zoo.