Animals In Captivity Vs. Public Education

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Animals In Captivity vs. Public Education

Animals In Captivity vs. Public Education


Zoos have always had a profound influence on how people regard animals. In the 19th Century, many Americans received their first exposure to wild animals through traveling circuses and menageries that often displayed them in small, cell-like exhibits separated from the public by heavy cage bars. The behavior of wild animals in captivity is greatly influenced by their housing, and our great- grandparents were probably introduced to many confined creatures that nervously paced back and forth and appeared to be unfriendly to people. The iron bars reinforced the common assumption that wild animals are dangerous to people, a view that fit in very well with the general attitude that Nature was something first to be conquered, then tamed in the service of Mankind. As zoos gradually changed from menageries to zoological gardens, the animals were moved from their cramped cages to large, open-air exhibits and the bars were replaced by chain link fences and moats. Concrete enclosures were made to look more natural with the addition of rock work and grass. With the lessening of their confinement, captive animals come to behave more as they would in the wild and public attitudes toward wild animals began to change. With the advent of television, the zoo-going public began to be exposed to wild animals in nature documentaries, and zoo visitors began to expect more from zoo exhibits. Indeed, modern zoo exhibits are attempts to present wild animals to the public in naturalistic settings, both for the benefit of the animals on display as well as the zoo visitors.

We must not forget that the public perception of wild animals is still being shaped by zoos. The idyllic settings of modern exhibits, however desirable in the modern zoo, may be presenting as distorted a picture of wild animals as did the Victorian menagerie. The "invisible barriers" between exhibit animals and public viewing areas have allowed zoo visitors to get "up close and personal" with even the most exotic and potentially dangerous of species. It is possible that the modern zoo exhibit may be giving a view to the public that these now-familiar exotic animals are less dangerous to people than they actually are. The changing public perception of wild animals may be part of the reason why so many people now desire exotic animals as pets. While owning a lion cub may spur some people into becoming zoo directors, as chronicled so well by the late Guy Smith of the Knoxville Zoo in A House for Joshua, the more common experience of exotic pet ownership is far less gratifying. And although the position of the AAZPA is that wild animals should not be kept as pets, it is possible that zoos themselves may inadvertently be contributing to this problem by the way they display animals.

Case Analysis

The move from "hard" exhibits of concrete and gunnite to more naturalistic "soft" exhibit habitats took place at the same time as ...
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