College of Veterinary Medicine

From the Dean

Why We Need Zoos

by Bryan 6. February 2012 07:20

Although on some days I feel as though I'm running a zoo, this post isn't about metaphorical zoos with legions of cats to herd.

Rather, it is about the real thing. 

One of the many fortunate circumstances that go with being dean is that I get to serve with a wonderful group of people on the Board of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, which by the way has a new logo that I think is very cool...how many images can you conjur up from this graphic? 

From them I have learned to appreciate the critical place of zoos as oases in urban environments where people can have some of the wonder of rounding a bend in the path and sighting a rarely seen animal, or hearing -- off in the distance -- a sound that begs for further exploration.  Aside from the "cool" factor of seeing animals from other continents that marked my experience with zoos as a kid, I never really considered how critical zoos are for connecting people with animals and their conservation as we increasingly urbanize our populations around the world.

I am fortunate to have spent the bulk of my life in rural or near-rural settings with easy access to vast expanses of undeveloped, or at least under-developed, lands...to nature, as it were.  Thus, rounding the bend to espy a bear or moose or elk or deer or coyote or fox, or whatever, has been a rather routine experience for me.  Similarly, being in a place where the quiet stands out for being so silent, only to be broken now and again with cries of birds, insects, or other animals is not uncommon for me.  But now with my experience on the board, when I am wandering the grounds of the zoo I am struck about how essential that place must be for the many who aren't able to experience the world in the way I am when I am out fishing...or just out.

I am prompted to say these things by this essay from the NY Times, which appeared over the weekend.  Those who run the real zoos have made huge strides in how animal behavior and welfare are enhanced by modern exhibits, husbandry, and veterinary care.  Even so, there are those who question whether zoos should exist at all.  However, as I experience the zoo with newfound appreciation, and when I consider arguments such as those advanced by this essay, I cannot imagine a world where these magnificent artifices did not exist to connect urban and suburban dwellers to animals and their conservation.

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