Willa: We all have to live in the real world, or this place is gonna close... but I just want you all to know I intend to run this one business really we.
Bugsy: And if you do, we could open a chain of them all over the world. Little zoos popping up everywhere, all exactly the same. Leopards on the left, rhinos on the right, monkeys in the middle, sea lions in the center...
I actually have no idea how the SEA LIFE aquariums, such as the one in Ann Arbor, Michigan, are operated or organized. Still, the thought of a chain aquarium struck me as very interesting concept. It made me wonder what it would be like to have zoos or aquariums managed uniformly, as a chain.
There is a reason that zoos and aquariums (well, apart from SEA LIFE, SeaWorld, and a few other facilities) are managed uniformly. Virtually all zoos originated independently, many of them founded by municipal governments or zoological societies. It was only with the establishment of the AZA that zoos began working in a cooperative manner - while still working under their own management systems. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of variation in how zoos manage their animals.
Some facilities prefer to feed their animals a more processed diet - chows, pellets, prepared meats - whereas others are more in favor of a more naturalistic diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole prey. At some facilities animals are kept in the enclosures day and night, at others they are secured in indoor quarters in the evening. Different zoos have different approaches and comfort levels with mixed species exhibits, or visitor-interaction with animals, or which species are worked free-contact versus protected contact.
Perhaps these differences are most readily seen when animals are transported from one facility to another. When this occurs, keepers at the sending and receiving institutions must communicate constantly to ensure a smooth transaction, helping make sure the animal is made as comfortable as possible in its new home and with its new care routine. The differences can be jarring sometimes. For example, I was working at a southern zoo when we received a sloth from a northern zoo. At its former facility, it was maintained in a giant walk-through rainforest building. At our zoo, it was kept outdoors. That change alone must have been jarring for the little fellow.
It probably would be easier if zoos and aquariums - or at least AZA-accredited ones - were managed in the exact same ways. The exact same animal care protocols, including diets and veterinary regiments - could be implemented at all zoos for uniform care. Staff would undergo the same hiring and training standards, and could transfer more easily from zoo to zoo for personal or professional reasons. Education, conservation, and breeding programs could be organized more smoothly. The fact is, though, that zoos and aquariums aren't uniform - some are big, and some are small. Some are government run, others are private, or a combination of the two. They are spread across the country, in areas ranging from sub-arctic to sub-tropical, urban to rural. They can't all be managed the same because they aren't all the same.
And thank goodness for that. How boring would this job be if everything was easy?