My love/hate relationship with zoological parks is a never ending debate within my head!
When all you want to do is work with animals, but also need to make an income, your choices are often limited. I knew I didn’t want to be a veterinarian. I actually wanted the animals to like me!
My perfect job would be to work in a shelter/sanctuary for wildlife, helping to rescue, rehabilitate and one day release the animals back into the wild where they belong. But this is not something you can come by easily. It involves a lot of commitment, dedication and strength with little to no pay. Living in Melbourne, this was not a possibility for me. There were no shelters or sanctuaries for wildlife offering paid work and I had to make a living to survive. This is why volunteering during my spare time was the best alternative for me.
Zoological parks offer work with native and exotic wildlife, but the purpose of keeping these animals confined in a space much smaller than they would occupy in the wild is something I struggle to support.
Yes, zoos give people the opportunity to learn and see different species that they wouldn’t normally have the privilege of encountering. Enclosure space and animal care have improved and come along way since zoos were first opened, but they will never come close to what the wild can offer.
Yes, the wild is dangerous and both legal and illegal activities are causing many species around the world to become extinct. Which of course is tremendously sad, frustrating and unacceptable.
Yes, zoos have been raising much needed funds for rescue and rehabilitation projects around the world, who are in need of support. They are also providing important education programs for children local and abroad to help fight the extinction of certain species.
But are we being selfish, keeping these animals locked “safe” in these enclosures for the enjoyment of paying customers? Are these animals truly happy? Is it fair to keep them locked up, observing them constantly, laughing at them, banging on their enclosures, etc?
This is a touchy subject and there are many aspects to think about. Education is certainly an important aspect, but can’t we educate without keeping animals confined. I know we want to keep endangered animals alive, but is it fair to keep them alive, just to confine them in a zoo? Is there not another option? I just feel bad for the animals that are artificially inseminated to ensure the survival of the species and the survival of zoos.
Over the years I have spent some time volunteering at several zoos. This gave me the opportunity to see first hand the dedication and commitment the zookeepers have for the animals they look after. It also allowed me to learn more about how zoos operate.
In 2005, whilst still at university, I volunteered at Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria, Australia. Then at the end of my university course in 2008, I spent some time volunteering at Auckland Zoo in New Zealand.
In 2009, I volunteered at Australia Zoo in Queensland. The Koalas below were actually from the rehabilitation shelter located opposite the zoo. The proceeds from the zoo, supported the running of this shelter, which is fantastic. These Koalas were found sick, injured or orphaned. They are cared for and released where possible.
Although I had this battle raging in my head regarding whether to love or hate zoos, I still applied for countless zookeeper jobs around Australia. Time and time again I was told I was either over-experienced or too young. I was never in the right place at the right time. Or I just didn’t know the right people! The knock backs affected me and made my dreams of working with wildlife feel unreachable. Then in 2013 I got the break I had wanted. I was accepted to work at a private zoo called Halls Gap Zoo in Victoria.
The time I spent at this zoo enabled me to learn a great deal, it made me appreciate the hard work keepers put in everyday and the passion and love they have for each and every animal they work with. I became extremely attached and emotional, I fought for their rights as much as my own. But in the end I couldn’t continue supporting the use of animals as a business. I felt responsible for keeping these animals locked in an artificial environment and that just didn’t sit well with me. Although I did my best to educate visitors and make each animals day that much better than the last, I felt like a walking contradiction. So after a challenging, yet eye opening experience, I decided after much debate to end my employment.
Since then I just try to make each day a learning experience. The one thing that makes me sane is volunteering my time around the world with different animal sanctuaries that need an extra helping hand. This is my way of educating myself about the plight of animals and their struggle for survival around the world. I listen, learn and aim to increase awareness when I return home to hopefully encourage other people to take a keener interest.
I understand not everyone is able or wants to volunteer their time with an animal sanctuary but we need to find another way to educate ourselves and our children. How can we learn about exotic wildlife if its not from visiting a zoo? How can we get children interested in animals they have never seen before. David Attenborough has fascinating documentaries, I know I learn more from his series than any visit to a zoo.
It just saddens me that a nice day out for you is a life long imprisonment for a wild animal. I’m not saying release them all, because most are too reliant on their keepers to be able to survive in the wild now. But maybe breeding programs need to stop, which will in turn stop animals being kept for our enjoyment.
Wouldn’t it be better if zoos were not needed. How about an interactive 3D zoo, with incredible 360° imagery and sounds to spark interest and conversation instead?