As a zookeeper, I spend a lot of time hearing visitors misidentify animals. That doesn't surprise me too much in and of itself (though for some reason I continue to be amazed at peoples' apparent refusal to read signage). If a visitor doesn't know what a certain animal is, if they think a lemur is a monkey, or a pelican is a stork, I can understand that. Unless they've previously heard of or encountered these animals, how would they know what they are?
What does worry me, however, is when those visitors think that a lemur is a raccoon or that a Aldabra tortoise is a snapping turtle (at least for North American zoo visitors). Lemurs don't normally raid our trash cans. Raccoons do. Aldabra tortoises don't normally plod through our backyards. Snapping turtles do. What worries me is that so many of our visitors don't seem to realize that.
It strikes me, sometimes, that many of our visitors have an increasingly hard time coming to terms with the idea of their being actual, wild animals in the world. I notice it in a variety of subtle ways:
There is the surprise (sometimes disbelief) I am greeted with when I tell visitors that some of the animals that they see in our zoo - river otters, beavers, bobcats, bald eagles - can be found naturally in our area - that wild individuals might be visiting their own backyards at the very same moment that they themselves are visiting the zoo. And it's not even the more seldom-seen animals - I've taken calls from members of the public who have seen deer in their yards and thought that they must be escaped zoo animals.
There is the shock that some seem to feel when they realize the some of the animals they seem roaming the zoo grounds - the turtles and geese, the rabbits and squirrels - are not zoo animals, and are self-controlled beings. We have a sign on the creek that runs through our zoo pointing out that turtles often bask on logs in the creek. Visitors seem confused sometimes that there won' always be turtles on those logs - that they may choose to be elsewhere, and that we have no control over it.
And there is the bafflement I encounter when I explain that, even if they see things at the zoo sometimes that may worry them - two animals fighting, for instance, or an individual who is sick or injured - that worse... far worse... often happens in the wild, with no human caretakers. I see this most often with our geriatric animals. Visitors will sometimes complain about older animals who look ragged or who sleep all day, or are stiff of movement, and assume that we aren't taking the best care of them. My answer is always... "They're old. If we weren't taking care of them, they wouldn't live to be old."
The "Wild" as we know it continues to change. It gets smaller and smaller ever year, and our management of it grows increasingly intense. It is, however, still there... at least for now.