What do ZOOs teach our children?

I was thrilled to take little F to the ZOO when we stayed in Krakow last year. I invited two of my friends with babies and on the set date we boarded a municipal bus. The forested road runs uphill and was very windy, so we had to hold on tight! It was a sunny and fun journey.   The only thing spoiling the trip was a though Daddy planted in my head: ‘is it right to hold all these animals captive?’. flamingoes in the snow   My first reaction was to say that it’s educational. That for most kids this is the only way they will ever see a lion or a giraffe. This is the only way they will learn to love animals and help save them when the need arises. But is this really the case? What do ZOOs really teach our children?   Daddy’s question made me look at the ZOO from a different perspective. It made me wonder whether this is really a place of education and entertainment. A great place for a family day out?   We visited the ZOO again in February, this time with Daddy, and seeing the animals kept in small cages made me sad. Particularly the leopard pacing up and down in his limited enclosure, for the duration of our 2 hour visit. And the wolf, which according to the information plaque, can run up to 100 km during one night. A far cry from his chicken wire ringed prison. giraffe in zoo   The animals looked well kept, with shiny coats and clean cages, but they all seemed miserable and frustrated. This was particularly clear in the indoors giraffe pavilion (we visited in February, so they were moved in from their external area). The three animals were moving restlessly behind the glass and occasionally hit one another with their necks and heads.   It goes against nature to keep such wonderful, and large, animals in small spaces. People who visit do not see them doing what they are meant to be doing, like running after prey or fulling around on tops of trees. What they do see is the biblical ‘truth’ that man is master of animals and can do with them as he sees fit. Even if this means making the animals miserably unhappy.   In Polish context there is also the issue of climate. ZOO has animals from much warmer climates like flamingoes, zebras and ostriches. These animals have to live in temperatures and conditions they would not normally encounter in their natural environment, like snow. feeding donkey   The only place where I did not feel bad, was the petting ZOO, where only domesticated animals were kept. Animals, which would not survive in the wild. These animals could be approached, stroked and even fed. It seems to be a much better lesson in animal TLC.   The Victorians thought hunting and stuffing animals helped conservation efforts… We think ZOOs may serve the same purpose. Hopefully the next generation will have a better idea how to inspire young minds with love of animals and instil in them the need to protect wildlife and their habitats.   I know that seeing an animal on the screen will not replicate seeing a live one, but I think this may be the way to go. There are plenty of interesting nature programmes showing animals in their natural surrounding. Programmes tend to focus on showing animals behaving naturally. Is this not more educating and valuable than seeing an eagle in a cage, knowing that he will never be able to raise on a hot air current?

And then the fun began...