Personally, I think it is the knowledge and education that it imparts on its visitors.
In my opinion, it’s conservation in every phase. The whole point of green living is to keep our planet and natural processes thriving, and that includes the animal world. By preserving and rehabilitating endangered species, and more importantly by informing the public about conservation efforts and how to get involved, zoos are a vital component to the global conservation effort.
Just think, as bad as the extinction and endangerment of animals can seem, how far behind we would be in the fight for animal life without the help of zoos.
I work for Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and I am very pleased to read the above answer, as so many people are saddened by the idea of zoos. It is true–the conservation piece is the biggest contribution zoos make. They are also responsible for breeding programs that boost endangered species’ population numbers. They also participate in, raise awareness of, and offer fiduciary support for species protection projects (e.g. Species Survival Plan). In addition, there is often a “what you can do” message when visiting a zoo which can make visitors feel empowered to be part of global change. Recycling, composting, buying sustainable products, etc. are also likely to be visible messages of a zoo’s mission.
I agree with the above posters that the most important part about zoos is conservation. Zoos often do important research and captive breeding programs that are vital to the survival of animals in the wild. But it’s also important that they allow the public to experience wild animals up close. People naturally care more about things they can see with their own eyes, and seeing for themselves how precious life on Earth is inspires many people to support conservation movements.
Of course, this applies only if the animals are well-cared for in appropriate enclosures to make sure they’re healthy and happy. And some animals, like elephants and dolphins, should never be kept in zoos or small tanks, but need large amount of areas to roam and many other members of their species to keep a healthy social life.
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