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Stephen Kellert's paper 'Zoological Parks in American Society', delivered at the annual meeting of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums in , indicates that zoo-goers are much less knowledgeable about animals than backpackers, hunters, fishermen and others who claim an interest in animals, and only slightly more knowledgeable than those who claim no interest in animals at all.
Even more disturbing, zoo-goers express the usual prejudices about animals; 73 per cent say they dislike rattlesnakes, 52 per cent vultures and only 4 per cent elephants. One reason why some zoos have not done a better job in educating people is that many of them make no real effort at education. In the case of others the problem is an apathetic and unappreciative public. Edward G. Ludwig's study of the zoo in Buffalo, New York , in the International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems for , revealed a surprising amount of dissatisfaction on the part of young, scientifically inclined zoo employees.
Much of this dissatisfaction stemmed from the almost complete indifference of the public to the zoo's educational efforts. Ludwig's study indicated that most animals are viewed only briefly as people move quickly past cages. The typical zoo-goer stops only to watch baby animals or those who are begging, feeding or making sounds. Ludwig reported that the most common expressions used to describe animals are 'cute', 'funny-looking', 'lazy', 'dirty', 'weird' and 'strange'.
Of course, it is undeniable that some education occurs in some zoos. But this very fact raises other issues. What is it that we want people to learn from visiting zoos? Facts about the physiology and behaviour of various animals? Attitudes towards the survival of endangered species?
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Compassion for the fate of all animals? To what degree does education require keeping wild animals in captivity? Couldn't most of the educational benefits of zoos be obtained by presenting films, slides, lectures and so forth? Indeed, couldn't most of the important educational objectives better be achieved by exhibiting empty cages with explanations of why they are empty? A third reason for having zoos is that they support scientific research. This too, is a benefit that was pointed out long ago.
Sir Humphrey Davy, one of the founders of the Zoological Society of London, wrote in 'It would become Britain to offer another, and a very different series of exhibitions to the population of her metropolis; namely, animals brought from every part of the globe to be applied either to some useful purpose, or as objects of scientific research - not of vulgar admiration! The first point we should note is that very few zoos support any real scientific research. Fewer still have staff scientists with full-time research appointments.
Among those that do, it is common for their scientists to study animals in the wild rather than those in zoo collections.
Much of this research, as well as other field research that is supported by zoos, could just as well be funded in a different way— say, by a government agency. The question of whether there should be zoos does not turn on the funding for field research which zoos currently provide. The significance of the research that is actually conducted in zoos is a more important consideration.
Research that is conducted in zoos can be divided into two categories: studies in behaviour and studies in anatomy and pathology. Behavioural research conducted on zoo animals is very controversial. Some have argued that nothing can be learned by studying animals that are kept in the unnatural conditions that obtain in most zoos. Others have argued that captive animals are more interesting research subjects than are wild animals: since captive animals are free from predation, they exhibit a wider range of physical and behavioural traits than animals in the wild, thus permitting researchers to view the full range of their genetic possibilities.
Both of these positions are surely extreme. Conditions in some zoos are natural enough to permit some interesting research possibilities. But the claim that captive animals are more interesting research subjects than those in the wild is not very plausible. Environments trigger behaviours. No doubt a predation-free environment triggers behaviours different from those of an animal's natural habitat, but there is no reason to believe that better, fuller or more accurate data can be obtained in predation-free environments than in natural habitats.
Studies in anatomy and pathology are the most common forms of zoo research. Such research has three main purposes: to improve zoo conditions so that captive animals will live longer, be happier and breed more frequently; to contribute to human health by providing animal models for human ailments; and to increase our knowledge of wild animals for its own sake. The first of these aims is surely laudable, if we concede that there should be zoos in the first place.
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But the fact that zoo research contributes to improving conditions in zoos is not a reason for having them. If there were no zoos, there would be no need to improve them. The second aim, to contribute to human health by providing animal models for human ailments, appears to justify zoos to some extent, but in practice this consideration is not as important as one might think. There are very severe constraints on the experiments that may be conducted on zoo animals. Despite the great potential of a zoo as a resource for models, there are many limitations and, of necessity, some restrictions for use.
There is little opportunity to conduct overly manipulative or invasive research procedures - probably less than would be allowed in clinical research trials involving human beings. Many of the species are difficult to work with or are difficult to breed, so that the numbers of animals available for study are limited. In fact, it is safe to say that over the past years, humans have served more as 'animal models' for zoo species than is true of the reverse. Whether for this reason or others, much of what has been done in using zoo animals as models for humans seems redundant or trivial.
For example, the article cited above reports that zoo animals provide good models for studying lead toxicity in humans, since it is common for zoo animals to develop lead poisoning from chewing paint and inhaling polluted city air. There are available for study plenty of humans who suffer from lead poisoning for the same reasons. That zoos make available some additional non-human subjects for this kind of research seems at best unimportant and at worst deplorable.
Finally, there is the goal of obtaining knowledge about animals for its own sake. Knowledge is certainly something which is good and, everything being equal, we should encourage people to seek it for its own sake. But everything is not equal in this case.
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There is a moral presumption against keeping animals in captivity. This presumption can be overcome only by demonstrating that there are important benefits that must be obtained in this way if they are to be obtained at all. It is clear that this is not the case with knowledge for its own sake. There are other channels for our intellectual curiosity, ones that do not exact such a high moral price.
Although our quest for knowledge for its own sake is important, it is not important enough to overcome the moral presumption against keeping animals in captivity. In assessing the significance of research as a reason for having zoos, it is important to remember that very few zoos do any research at all. Whatever benefits result from zoo research could just as well be obtained by having a few zoos instead of the hundreds which now exist. The most this argument could establish is that we are justified in having a few very good zoos.
She had been watching Huanca tuck into a stash of nuts in her enclosure but when they ran out she took action.
Standing on her back legs, the five-year-old stretched out and tried to get the keeper's attention - but looked disgruntled when he did not notice straight away. Rainer said: 'Huanca was a great bear to photograph because she was so well-natured. Looking for attention: Huanca was pictured standing upright on her back legs and waving her paw as if calling over a waiter by American amateur photographer Rainer Paul, She's so clever and lively and didn't seem fazed at all by everybody around her.
Instead, Huanca and her ilk prefer to tuck in to a diet of nuts and plants. Huanca checks out her surroundings at Duisburg Zoo.
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