Tiger Exhibit, Denver Aquarium

Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. —Albert Einstein

For as long as I can remember, I have absolutely loved to visit zoos & aquariums. My childhood dream was to be a zoologist or a marine biologist. Lucky for me, my parents entertained my enthusiasm & took me to the incredible Bronx Zoo & the Six Flags Wild Adventure Safari throughout my childhood.

As I got older, my views began to shift. The last time I went into a pet store, I vowed never to set foot in one again. It was simply too much for me—the animals in cages, the sad cries, the sad eyes. While animal habitats at zoos are much more expansive than pet store cages, the animals are still in captivity. Technically, they are not free & therefore caged. I struggled to accept this as being “okay”. Later in college, when I embarked on a 14-day East African safari, my views shifted again. Could I ever appreciate animals in captivity after viewing them in their native habitats?

Manatee Exhibit, Columbus Zoo

While I still loved zoos & aquariums, I wondered if I could justify the love. Is it alright to keep animals in captivity simply for our viewing pleasure? I struggled with the thought for years. And then one day I decided to stop wondering and actually find out. Knowledge shines light into the dark room of ignorance.

One of the greatest resources that I’ve come across is the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). What I found out was incredible!

AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums:

  • work to save species from imminent extinction by conducting research to support reintroduction programs that re-establish populations in the wild.
  • AZA also partners with zoos, aquariums, and other conservation organizations to increase awareness of threats to high-profile species such as amphibians and elephants, as well as entire ecosystems.
  • AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums spend nearly $90 million per year on conservation initiatives. In the last five years they have funded nearly 4,000 conservation projects in more than 100 countries!

In the past couple of years I have visited the Bronx Zoo (Bronx, New York); Adventure Aquarium (the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey); the Denver Zoo (Denver, Colorado); Downtown Aquarium (Denver, Colorado); the National Aquarium (Baltimore, Maryland); and the Columbus Zoo (Columbus, Ohio). Click on any of the links to learn more about the amazing conservation programs at each of these zoos.

Flamingo Exhibit, Bronx Zoo

During my most recent zoo adventure to the Columbus Zoo, I learned that more than 70 wildlife conservation projects in 30 countries are benefiting from $1.1 million in program support by the Columbus Zoo. Projects conducting research and engaging in grassroots conservation on behalf of Africa’s great apes, cheetahs, West Indian manatees, Siberian tigers, polar bears, amphibians, and Ohio’s endangered freshwater mussels, are among the Zoo’s conservation partners. Over the past five years, the Zoo has distributed $3.8 million in conservation grants!

While my personal opinion about zoos has evolved so much, unfortunately there are still zoos that do not hold themselves to such high standards. There are countless tragedies. The illegal, black-market trade of wild & endangered animals is real. The best that we can do is continue to support the zoos that are doing wonderful things for our Earth & wildlife, while ignoring/protesting the zoos that take part in unethical & devastating practices.

To find out whether a zoo near you is AZA accredited, check out http://www.aza.org/findzooaquarium/.

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