Welcome to the "Zoo Outsider" Blog, I won't waste time introducing myself personally as I hardly matter, it is the ideas and arguments presented here that I would like people to focus on.
Firstly I'd like to set out my stance in the grand scale of things.
I am Pro-Zoo and Pro-Conservation - As idealistic as it may sound to dream of some futuristic "eden" where a safe place for endangered species is not necessary, in reality I think we all know that given the progression of man, the likelihood of zoos disappearing is pretty slim.
It is my firm conviction that zoos can and will play an absolutely necessary part in wild animal conservation, just not in their current state. Zoos of one form or another have played a massive part in our cultural evolution over thousands of years and like everything else, the answer to their survival will be in their future evolution.
The one advantage collections (at least in the UK) have is that they are ultimately in control of a large percentage of the influencing factors of their "evolution", but it is this which is stifling progress and providing ammunition to the anti-zoo lobbies which hardly need to be encouraged.
Lets say the future of a zoo, the species it keeps, the kind of education it dispenses etc... depends upon the whims of it's visitor demographic, which as with any visitor funded facility is a given. But what if you had the advantage that the whims of said demographic could be influenced by the very species you display and the approach you take towards educating them. Of course this sort of thing needs to be applied to a unified nation of zoos, all of which are working towards a unified goal. At present, the casual acceptance of sub standard collections and a haphazard singular approach in the UK is providing the stumbling block for this idea.
Meerkats are a very obvious example of the current detrimental ideology. In recent years the popularity of meerkats due to a certain advert has caused a massive increase in zoo displays of the species, which is otherwise unremarkable and does not really have any conservation significance whatsoever. Would it be fair to say that advertising agencies have more control over the species we keep than we do?? Should it not have been a case of all UK zoos pointing out these facts to the public and the advertising industry and educating them? Instead meerkats popped up all over the place, gobbling up zoo funds which could obviously been better spent elsewhere.
I think that zoos need to take a firm control on their own destiny, we should be telling visitors what is endangered and why it's important to protect it. Propagating the idea that zoos are just a place to go and see your favourite animals is going to keep zoos in that exact same place pandering to the whims of the media and the public, attracting more and more attention from the anti-zoo lobby and slowly allowing them to erode away at the good work that is being done (and often overlooked by public) by a few good collections. There is no better way to rectify a problem than removing the causing factors, which in most cases are public pressure and perception.
That aside I am most certainly pro-zoo and really do see a stable future, but only where zoos react and respond suitably to their purpose, which should be unquestionably conservation of endangered species and more importantly their respective ecosystems. If you work in zoos you will know of at least one collection (probably more) where money comes first over conservation and education and it is those collections which are "letting the team down" there should be pressure placed on these sub-standard collections to improve or close. Instead the industry seems to respond with quiet indifference to it, usually because someone has a friend at said collection or they just don't want to rock the boat.
I could go on on this subject, release vs. studbook euthanasia, population vs. individual & etc.. but that can be for another time.
As the blog progresses, I will write about examples I feel fit with this idea. Brilliant enclosures, enrichment, research projects and conservation initiatives. I will also bring up things that stir debate, and I thoroughly encourage everyone to get involved, debate is the precursor to progress, do not be ashamed to have an opinion of your own.
I'll leave it at that for now as I've put in a fair whack there and I really need a strong cuppa.
Lets see where this goes,