Over my lifetime I have had some varying thoughts on visiting the zoo for a day out. As a kid, I bloody loved them. I would always choose a zoo over a theme park, a day in the shops, or a museum. I would be fascinated by all the different animals I could find in one place and would religiously follow the map hand-out, ticking off each enclosure as I went to ensure I missed no animal. As I got older the excitement turned into empathy and with that came concerns over the animals welfare. The enclosures started to look smaller and watching the hoards of people pressing their noses against the glass made me wonder if the animals wished we would all just bugger off.
It’s only recently that I have begun to consider why I am often left with these conflicting emotions after visiting a zoo. I think, perhaps, many zoo’s don’t bring conservation into the spotlight as much as they could, and maybe should. Edinburgh Zoo for example, has an amazing website full of information on the conservation projects they are taking on, as well as the education programmes they have on offer. Their work is helping to support species right across the globe, and a lot of the amazing things happening is left unheard about. Of course, the beautiful Giant Pandas they have, Tian Tian (female) and Yang Guan (male), are what can only be described as Zoo royalty. With cues of people hoping to catch a glimpse of them; over half of the gift shop dedicated to panda inspired knick-knacks; and more TV coverage then most early-career news presenters, these big ol’ bundles of lazy are celebrated for simply existing – and I would like to think of them as blissfully naive to the whole thing. It’s that these beautiful creatures are so supported, by scientists and the public alike, but I think it is essential that this is an opportunity to educate more and more people about animal & wildlife conservation. The conservation work that has helped bring Tian Tian & Yang Guan into this world is also happening right before our eyes with other species, in a different area of the zoo, but we never hear about that.
Of course, when you are a kid and you visit a zoo, you get swept up in the excitement of the animals, the gift shop, the play area and (if you’re a child like I was) the cafe. Going to the Zoo is, and should always remain, an exciting day out for children. I’m just wondering if the conservation work taking place could also share a little bit of the spotlight every once in a while. Zoo’s are the perfect opportunity for inspiring younger people to grow up understanding that the animals we have need to be protected and cared for, not a show to gawp at for human entertainment and gain. A very thin and difficult line to draw of course. Every now and again I just want to chisel away at the consumerist market that is often seen with a trip to the Zoo and see them for what they are – the hardworking, determined, compassionate heart of animal conservation in the UK.
I’d love to hear peoples thoughts on this and have a chat about what everybody thinks. Leave me a comment and lets talk!