The Word 'Zoo'
The word zoo is now used more or less ubiquitously around the world to refer to collections of exotic animals kept in captivity and on show to the public. Yet, just 200 years ago, the word 'zoo' did not exist. Before about 1800, collections of exotic animals were usually referred to as menageries. Many of these were private collections, kept for the amusement of wealthy individuals. It was not until after the opening the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park (London's Zoo) that the word 'zoo' came into widespread use, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Nowadays, the word zoo seems to be drifting out of favor again—at least in some parts of the world—with the advent of titles such as 'safari park,' 'wildlife park,' and biopark for the wild animal collections that use to be referred to as zoos.
The Purpose of Modern Zoos
Modern zoos are no longer only places that keep a few animals for people to go and look at. They are scientifically run and governmentally regulated institutions, which have a significant role to play in our relationship with the natural world. Many zoos describe their roles in terms of four key roles: conservation, education, research, and recreation. These roles have been defined more precisely in the last two decades, and this has been accompanied by a great increase in knowledge about the needs of animals and the best ways of maintaining them in captivity.
The majority of zoo animals are owned by the facility. Animals that are not owned by a facility will include critically endangered species, which tend to be owned by the government of the range state, that is, the country or region in which the species occurs naturally. In such cases, facilities are considered as stewards of the animals in their care and are obliged to obey the instructions of the species managers. In many countries, zoo animals are not traded for financial gain and animals move between facilities without payment. Zoos work collaboratively to provide the optimal pairing and housing to ensure the long-term sustainability of the population. Loans between zoos enable breeding, with contractual agreements between the two facilities with respect to offspring and care of the animals.
Animal Welfare Science (Zoos)
“Animal welfare science” is the scientific study of the welfare state of animals that attempts to make inferences about how animals feel. It is based on a number of available welfare indicators (behavior, endocrine function, physical health, and so on) with the purpose of providing objective data. It also includes the study of cause and effect—in other words, which factors contribute to a reduced or enhanced welfare state. Animal welfare science and ethics are inextricably linked, and for brevity, we use the term animal welfare science to also include ethics. Strictly speaking, welfare science focuses on “what is,” whereas ethics focuses on “what ought to be” (Kreger & Hutchins, 2010; White 1981), but animal welfare scientists and animal ethicists have many overlapping goals. Ultimately, both disciplines are interested in advancing our understanding and articulation of the human relationship with other animals (Fraser, 1999).
Endangered Species and Conservation
Zoos and aquariums (hereafter, “zoos”) are becoming more broadly recognized as important partners for conserving threatened species. There is a long history of zoos engaging in species recovery, from the American bison and California condor to the black-footed ferret and Panamanian golden frog. However, the role of zoos in species conservation has often focused on ex situ species management, in particular ex situ breeding. For example, the Conservation Measures Partnership’s Actions Classification identifies 30 distinct types of conservation actions, but specifies a role for zoos in only two of those (ex situ conservation, outreach and communications). The conservation value of ex situ breeding has also been somewhat controversial, with views ranging from it being a last resort that diverts resources from in situ efforts, to part of a continuum of management actions for threatened species. Even when ex situ breeding is acknowledged as part of the conservation strategy, the ability of zoos to sustain demographically and genetically viable populations for the long-term has been questioned. Undoubtedly these issues and concerns must continue to be explored, but zoos also contribute to other conservation efforts beyond ex situ breeding.
Zoos are largely transparent when it comes to animal welfare. The core model of zoos requires that zoo animals are held on display and visitors are encouraged to look at the animals. Thus zoos provide significant visibility of the animals in their care. As a result of public interest in zoo operations, some zoos even display the holding facilities and veterinary facilities, further promoting visibility. However, zoos do hold animals off-display for a variety of reasons. The lack of display is no grounds for poor facilities or poor treatment of animals, and care must be taken to ensure that off-display facilities are equivalent to on-display facilities. Increasingly, zoos are expanding transparency by providing access for visitors to their off-display facilities and support activities, such as veterinary hospitals.
Types of Zoos
Urban and Suburban Zoos
Urban zoos, located in large cities, still resemble the smaller zoos that were popular 200 years ago. Often, these zoos sit in the middle of cities, making expansion difficult. There is little room for urban zoos to grow, and many of the zoo’s buildings are historic landmarks that cannot be destroyed or redesigned.
Urban zoos are common in Europe, while many zoos in the United States developed as sprawling parks in suburbs outside cities. These open-range zoos give animals more territory to roam and provide more natural habitats. This popular technique of building realistic habitats is called landscape immersion.
Larger than urban and open-range zoos, safari parks are areas where tourists can drive their own cars to see non-native wildlife living in large, enclosed areas. These attractions allow the animals more space than the small enclosures of traditional zoos.
Game reserves are large swaths of land whose ecosystems and native species are protected. The protections allow animals to live and reproduce at natural rates. Animals are allowed to roam free.
Zoo Accreditation: Association of Zoos and Aquariums
All zoos and aquariums are not created equal, and one important distinction is accreditation by the AZA. The AZA’s rigorous, scientifically based, and publicly available standards examine a zoo or aquarium’s entire operation, including animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, education, guest services, physical facilities, public safety, staffing, finance, and governance. The AZA standards are performance-based so they can be applied in a variety of different situations and cases. The AZA continuously raises its standards as science continues to learn more and more about the species in our care. Accreditation is rescinded if AZA standards are not maintained. In the United States, agencies such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture consider AZA standards and accreditation as the “national” standard, and they refer to those standards when evaluating all institutions.
The Effects of Visitors on Zoos
Research has shown that an animal's welfare is highly dependent on how various individual animal factors (e.g., species traits, genetics, temperament and previous experience) interact with environmental features (e.g., social grouping, enclosure design and sensory environment). One prominent feature of the zoo environment is the presence of visitors. Visitor contact can be unpredictable and intense, particularly in terms of auditory and visual interaction. Depending on an animal's perception of this interaction, visitors can have either negative, neutral or positive impacts on zoo animal behavior and welfare.
Zoos are required to maintain a high standard of animal welfare, and this can be assessed using a combination of resource-based and animal-based indices usually divided into behavioral indicators, physiological indicators and clinical/pathological signs. Modern animal welfare assessments should aim to encompass positive affective states and the indicators that are useful in assessing these are discussed. When developing factors to be scored for each species, there is huge variability in the available information about the natural biology for some zoo species and even less information concerning those animals in captivity.
Animal Welfare Research Trends
Human–Animal Interactions and Relationships
Humans’ relationships with animals have long been of interest from an ethical perspective DeMello, M. (2012) and more recently from an animal welfare perspective. The term human–animal interaction (HAI) refers to how animals in captivity interact with humans within their environment; in the case of zoos, these humans may be keepers and other staff and visitors (Hosey, 2008). Interactions can broadly be categorized as positive, neutral, or negative (Hemsworth & Boivin, 2011).
Most zoo animals live in highly predictable environments: Provisions of resources are highly scheduled, and cues such as keeper presence at certain times of the day reliably signal their arrival. Predictable conditions promote the development of anticipatory behavior (i.e., behavior occurring in response to a cue that signals the arrival of the resource). In his review, Watters therefore proposed anticipatory behavior as a practical indicator of zoo animal welfare and argued that it may signal the animal’s own appraisal of how rewarding their environment is, which fits the framework toward assessing more positive welfare states and asking animals what they “want” (Dawkins, 2017).
The use of computer technology in zoos is rapidly increasing (Perdue, Clay, Gaalema, Maple, & Stoinski, 2012; (Webber, Carter, Smith, & Vetere, 2017). Consequently, animals participating in computerized cognitive tasks (usually involving computer touchscreens or a computer screen paired with a joystick) have shown signs of increased welfare such as voluntary engagement, reduced abnormal behaviors, and signs of “satisfaction,” but there is a crucial link between task complexity and welfare (reviewed by Clark, 2017).
The assessment of zoo animal welfare can broadly be separated into three camps: the biological functioning of an animal, the feelings or affective state of an animal, and the naturalness of the environment in allowing the animal to express natural behaviors (Fraser, 2009).
Reproduction and Population Management
Difficult reproductive management decisions are omnipresent in zoos; there is limited space to house animals and their offspring, movement of a species between zoos is restricted (see review by Princée, 2016), and reproduction is known to be affected by a number of captive factors such as stress and nutrition (Blache, Terlouw, & Maloney, 2011).
The Question of Animal Captivity
Study after study has shown that many animal species are far smarter and more feeling than previously understood, giving new insights into how they may suffer from anxiety and depression when they are removed from nature. That has forced a difficult existential question: If we acknowledge that creatures suffer when they’re confined, should they be held in captivity? Not even those who have advanced the cause for more-humane exhibits have an answer. “Even the best zoos today are based on captivity and coercion,” says Jon Coe, the legendary zoo designer who invented the Zoo360 concept for Philadelphia. “To me, that’s the fundamental flaw.”
Arguments/Calls for Zoo Reform
Discussions on the welfare of nonhuman animals in zoos tend to focus on incremental improvements without addressing the underlying problem of captivity. But alterations to the conditions of zoo captivity are irrelevant for animals. Real zoo reform will involve working to completely change the landscape. We offer six necessary reforms to bring zoos into a more ethical future: (1) Shut down bad zoos, now; (2) stop exhibiting animals who cannot and never will do well in captivity; (3) stop killing healthy animals; (4) stop captive breeding; (5) stop moving animals around from one zoo to another; and (6) use the science of animal cognition and emotion on behalf of animals.
Animal Rights: A basic belief that nonhuman are entitled to basic rights.
Animal Welfare: Concern for the treatment of the quality of life of an animal.
Biodiversity: The variety of life (such as plants and animals) in a place.
Ecosystem: A a community of plants, animals, and their environment.
Ethics: A set of beliefs about what is right and what is wrong.
Morality: Giving more importance to the interests of one species (usually humans) over another species
What is animal ethics?
As a specialized field of applied ethics, animal ethics is the academic study of the human animal relationship and the ethical issues that arise, especially in regards to the treatment of animals. Animal ethics may overlap with bioethics or very specific subjects like animal rights, animal welfare, animal law, conservation, etc.
What is the difference between animal rights and animal welfare?
Traditionally, “animal rights” is the idea that some animals, particularly those of near-human intelligence, such as chimpanzees, have the right essentially equal to humans to live free from use in medical research, hunting, and other human use. Some would include in the definition of “animal rights” the freedom of all animals from being consumed as food. By close contrast, but not identical in definition, “animal welfare” is the idea that most if not all animals must be protected against abuse and ensured humane treatment, without necessarily giving them equal rights guaranteed to humans.