8.01.2017

To Zoo or Not to Zoo...Ethical Animal Experiences

Visits to zoos, circuses, aquariums, farms and animal theme parks are classic summer day trips and school-year field trips that allow children to interact with and learn about animals.  However, most of these experiences come at the expense of a free and natural life for the animals involved.  Lately I've been contemplating how we can give children opportunities to experience animals first-hand while respecting the lives of the animals.
It's always a good idea to start with some background reading.
 What's New? The Zoo!: A Zippy History of Zoos by Kathleen Krull is a fun historical summary of zoos written for kids.  The book highlights zoos throughout history including some designed for animal protection and others assembled purely for the private amusement of wealthy people without regard for animal needs or feelings.  Krull's zoo timeline helps readers consider the intentions behind past and present animal enclosures and can help begin a conversation about the probable goals of the zoos and other animal experiences in your town.

After considering the value of zoos, we are still left with the question: where can we ethically interact with animals? One Green Planet has several suggestions that fall into two major categories.

1. Sanctuaries, Rescues, and Rehabilitation Centers
These centers distinguish themselves from traditional zoos and theme parks by devoting themselves entirely to rescuing, protecting, healing, and when possible, releasing animals back to their natural habitats.  Centers exist for the protection of various wild and domestic animals, and they often offer tours, children's programs, and volunteering opportunities.  You can easily locate facilities like these in your area using a search engine.

2. Natural Habitats
Other options for animal experiences exist all around us.  Visit the beach to see ocean animals up close.  Head to a river, pond, or other nearby waterway to watch fresh-water animals and other critters that make use of the water source.  Grab your binoculars and visit a bird observatory or even just spend some time watching the animals in your own backyard.  Hike through a forest, drive across a desert, or stomp/splash/sneak through nearby areas with limited human settlement to see animals in their real homes.

3. Virtual Visits
Most families and schools have an easy third option thanks to high-quality video and the Internet.  If you want to experience animals that are difficult to locate in your area, watch a documentary about them or find a live-stream of animals in far-away places.  The Audubon Society has prepared a list of high-quality wildlife web cams.  National Geographic has a database of videos collected through their CritterCam and WildCam programs which allow viewers to see animals in their wild homes.

What are your favorite ways to learn about animals while respecting their rights?