To love or hate zoos!?

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. This type of work 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. Hence 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. 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?

20 Replies to “To love or hate zoos!?”

  1. Such an interesting debate, I always think it depends on the zoo and which country it is in and whether they are aiming to entertain tourists or rehabilitate the animals. I guess a bit of both is necessary but sometimes its difficult to tell whether the animals are in any way benefiting in their new environment.

    1. Of course there are zoos in some countries that do no conservation and are aimed solely at tourism and others which try to raise awareness and funds. It is difficult but in either situation I don’t see why we need to condemn further generations into a captive lifestyle.

  2. Hate zoos, love sanctuaries or rehab centers that open to the public in an organised animal friendly manner. I love your blog by the way!

    1. Wildlife rehabilitation centers, shouldn’t really be open to the public. If they plan to release the animals, then less human interaction is best for their survival in the wild. Sanctuaries are there for animals who cannot be released and breeding should definitely not occur. The animals should be the most important, not the humans, so make sure if you visit a place, it has an organised tour and you can’t just touch and play with who you want! So glad you’re loving the blog 🙂

  3. It’s a difficult one for sure. Some zoos are better than others as they really care for the animals and take care of them. Some have saved animals from extinction too. It doesn’t change the fact that they are all in captivity though.

    1. That’s why this conversation is so hard. Yes some are doing great things and some not. In either case money is being made and animals are being kept for our “enjoyment” – because how often do you go to a zoo and leave fully prepared to tackle the issues that many of these animals are facing in the wild.

  4. Amazing article. You really go into detail on your passions and beliefs well done. I understand your ideas on Zoos, The last time I visited one was purely work related otherwise i’ll wait until I see them in the wild if I can.

    1. The koalas in my photos are from the rehab/sanctuary. I did not ask them to come on me, but they climbed on me and were happy to be held. This is not the case for all captive animals and we have to realise some koalas, baby crocs, snakes amongst other animals we pay to have our photos taken with, may not be enjoying it as much as you. So even though it looks cute, the animals may be suffering for that photo.

  5. Yes I hear this debate often…I don’t think there is a clear right or wrong 🙂 You are glowing when you are with animals…photos are great 🙂

    1. It is definitely a debate that will continue for a long time to come unfortunately, because there is a lot of money to be made. I love being surrounded and in the presence of animals. They make me see things differently, make me calmer and make me feel like I’m where I should be. Thanks for your kind comment.

  6. This is such a great debate! As both sides of the fence have strong relative arguments. I tend to see that the actual workers of the zoo, yes are people like yourself and all about the safety and livelihood of the animals at hand, whilst it is bigger forces being the elite like the government or owners and shareholders of the Zoo’s are the ones that keep then enclosed in order to make money using the facade to the public eye or (less educated) that they need to be in a Zoo in order to keep them safe and breeding etc. Making us all feel comfortable with what is actually going on here. You have touched on a lot of points and it is so commendable and really shows you have a beautiful heart and a huge passion! Thank you for sharing.

  7. This is a constant battle in my head too. I just can’t bring myself to appreciate zoo’s. Seeing this absolutely tremendous animals kept in such small spaces is heratbreaking to me. I have only been to Werribee and melbourne Zoo and I did not leave there with a smike on my face. I felt deep sadness. I was so excited to see my absolute favourite animal in the world in the flesh – the Orangutan. When i finally got to the enclosure, I cried. My family thought it was because I was excited or tears of joy but it was complete sadness and guilt.

    Instead of going to a zoo, I will colubteer my time in Borneo helping at a rehab centre. That is where I will get a more true experience.

    I could talk about this topic for a looong time but I think we are in agreeance that education can come from a 3d type film or books until old enoigh to seek out experiences like you do to see them in a better environment.

    Great post!

    1. I know exactly how you feel.
      When people find out I love animals, there first reaction is to tell me their favourite zoo. Then to ask me which one mine is.
      When I tell them my thoughts of zoos they are often shocked and can’t quite comprehend what I’m saying.
      If you can volunteer in the animals actual country of origin you will learn a great deal more and see the animal in a completely different way!
      I am excited for you to go to Borneo, I would love to go too!

  8. Me encanta tu blog !!!
    Este es el debate infinito…. yo me encuentro exactamente en el mismo punto que tú con respecto a los zoos.
    Gracias por compartir tus vivencias… tan interesantes…..

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