The Quiet Zoo Revolution, by Jeremy Hance
How the world's best zoos are working to save biodiversity in an age of extinction
What is a zoo? Is it a place of entertainment or education? Of cages or conservation? Beginning around the mid-Twentieth Century, zoos and aquariums underwent a revolution of sorts: they began to see their animals less as captives and more as charges, while viewing their role within the community as increasingly educational. Many abolished barred cages for larger and more natural-looking pens, added enrichment activities to keep animals engaged, and began to take education more seriously, especially as the realization of a biodiversity crisis began to permeate the public consciousness. This revolution in zoos has been well-documented. But a quieter revolution in zoos has also been occurring over just the past twenty-five years. Rather than just stand by the sidelines as species vanish in the wild, more and more zoos have begun funding on-the-ground conservation efforts, some even going so far as launching their own conservation programs. While this revolution has been less visible than spruced-up pens and educational outreach, it signals a widening realization by zoos of the positive—and wholly unique—role they could play in combatting global mass extinction. But the question remains: are zoos doing enough?
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Photo by Tara Harris