Don’t Close the Zoos

Back to April 2015 Ed Reporter

Don’t Close the Zoos

A February 13, 2015 article in Outside magazine demonstrates just how off base an observer can be. The author of “The Case for Closing Zoos” alleges that because his ten-year-old son was engaged while watching a televised special about Orcas and found it “gripping,” that zoos no longer need to exist. He suggests that watching animal shows on YouTube or PBS can replace trips to the zoo.

Feeding giraffes

The assumption that no child needs to see zoo animals since his own child’s response was to “light up in front of the screen” seems to represent a shallow thought process. It would be interesting to know if the author had taken his son to a zoo at any point prior to the occasion when he decided that children don’t benefit from visiting zoos. Would his son have been as interested in animals had he never been to a zoo?

While technology can provide experiences, it’s a mistake to believe it negates the necessity of real-life experiences and interactions.

Zoo Trip vs. YouTube

Children from all economic backgrounds benefit from school field trips and family visits to the zoo. In some big cities, like St. Louis, Washington, and Chicago, zoo admission is free.

The 2013 Pew Research Internet Project found only 54% of lower-income Americans, those making less than $30,000 a year, have broadband internet access at home (Education Week, 2-4-15). Economically disadvantaged families are less likely to be able to watch internet videos and cable television shows about animals.

To assume that children would be equally inspired by a video of an animal as by actually seeing the animal at a zoo is possibly a miscomprehension of child development. Also, research shows that screen time has a negative affect on young children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time for children younger than two and limited time for older children. The AAP website states, “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.”

The Zoo “Test”

Why is it important for children to be interested in animals? The most obvious reason is that animals engage the imagination and inquisitiveness of children. If we want to encourage children to appreciate the natural world, and end up having a certain percentage of them become scientists, we must expose them to the wonders around them, including exotic animals they won’t see in their neighborhood.

Visually experiencing the majesty of animals at a zoo is an amazing experience for children. The Outside magazine author cites a survey of 3,000 children who visited the London Zoo. He complains that only 34% of them showed “positive learning” or “gained new information.”

Being discouraged that over 1,000 children left knowing new facts is an example of missing the point and becoming data-obsessed, in the same manner as those who want school to become nothing but test results. So what if many of the children were only amazed by the zoo animals and didn’t get the facts down? Should they have instead stayed in front of a tv screen that day or sitting at a desk in a classroom? One wonders how many of the kids had a bad day at the zoo.

Why Close Zoos?

According to the Outside author, “The Association of Zoos and Aquariums reports that its 228 members are actively working to save 30 species.” Apparently that isn’t good enough.

As evidence that all zoos should close, he reaches all the way back to a 1982 report that some animals at the San Diego zoo experienced “malnutrition, injuries from transport, and the use of anesthetics and tranquilizers.” That was 33 years ago. Surely San Diego has by now made improvements.

The appropriate response to zoos and aquariums that don’t properly care for their animal wards is to improve conditions, not to close them down.

God Made the World

Zoos are involved in conservation of the world that God created. Children are inspired by zoos. Take a child to the zoo. Let them experience watching wolves prowl in a semi-natural habitat. Then, at home or in the classroom, read books like The Wolves Are Back, by Jean Craighead George and When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone, by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent. These two books make conservationism come alive for children. They demonstrate how perfectly God created ecosystems and what those who were inspired by animals when they were children accomplished by their efforts to restore the perfect balance that God created.