From my earliest years, I have been fascinated by wild creatures and, as a child, one of my favorite activities was a trip to the zoo. But, even as a preteen, I began to appreciate the negative effects that captivity can have on animals, locked away in paddocks of concrete and steel. While modern zoos have gradually transitioned to naturalized exhibits, more appealing to the human eye, these enclosures only begin the replicate the freedoms of wild habitat.
Nevertheless, zoos play an important role in public education and, by providing close encounters with wild creatures, sow the seeds of conservation in young children, a task that is vital to future generations of wildlife. These institutions also contribute to natural science research and, in some cases (e.g. California condors) have proved essential to the recovery of wild populations. And, unlike in the past, most of today's zoo animals were born in captivity and have not been taken from the natural environment.
But zoos will never be the answer to the conservation of wildlife on this planet. Only the protection of wild habitat, in adequate size and diversity, will achieve that goal. Unfortunately, human population growth, "development," agriculture, resource depletion and pollution are an ongoing threat to these natural ecosystems. By supporting conservation groups, such as those in the right column of this blog, you can help to ensure the protection of natural habitat and the future welfare of nature's wild residents.