Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy 175th birthday Bristol Zoo!!

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With media coverage of the 175th anniversary of Bristol Zoo (see here and here) I'm reminded of the debate within the green movement on zoos. I've said in past public debates* that I dont agree with those greens who have called for the closure of all zoos (*see images from letters written in 2004, click to enlarge). I certainly have reservations about zoos but dont want to see the good work that the best of them are doing thrown away.

If designed properly zoos can entertain by encouraging people to wonder about and marvel at the natural world. Bristol Zoo was a big part of my childhood, my upbringing and my environmental education and in turn that of my daughter and I'm very grateful for it - especially with the huge improvements they have made in conditions for the animals over the years.

As a teacher I've taken several school groups to Bristol Zoo and they have gained real insights as a result eg into zoology and into the huge illegal trade in wildlife. I agree on the whole with what naturalist Terry Nutkins, formerly a presenter on the BBCs The Really Wild Show, has said in the Evening Post,

"I know you get a lot of romantics who say we shouldn't have zoos – that all animals should be allowed to roam free. But, although I know these people are well-meaning, they're talking absolute nonsense.

"The role of zoos these days is all about conservation, and none more so than Bristol Zoo. Places like Bristol Zoo are the modern day Noah's Arks. If these places didn't exist, hundreds, if not thousands of species of animals would be wiped out.

"Some of these creatures simply aren't capable of surviving alone in the wild at the moment, but by keeping them in zoos and working on special breeding programmes, we can nurture them until the time when we've sorted out their natural habitats or got their numbers up sufficiently for populations to thrive once again."

In the past zoos helped to create and reinforce the wrong attitudes towards the natural world - one of a lack of respect and understanding. The natural world was plundered to find exhibits, animals kept in entirely unacceptable and inappropriate conditions and used to entertain in unacceptable ways. Zoos of this type still in existence in any place around the world should change drastically or be closed.

Habitats have changed or are destroyed as, simultaneously, the best zoos conduct campaigns, research and captive breeding programs. Habitat destruction cuts the chance of successful reintroduction to the wild. The best zoos are increasingly working to protect habitats and to attempt to re-establish habitats that have been removed by human activity. We need to see much more work like this - it is pretty pointless to captive breed just for breedings sake.

The best zoos are very good at informing and educating the public and involving them in the issues. I have no problems with zoos as places of entertainment as long as the methods are acceptable and it is remembered why people are being entertained ie to promote respect and care for the natural world.