Zoos have always reflected the curiosity and intrigue of humankind toward the animal kingdom. Throughout several different ancient civilizations dating back thousands of years, including Egypt, China, and all over Europe, caged wild animals were seen as divine representatives and sat next to the thrones of only the most wealthy and powerful. “Stone tablets found in the Sumerian city of Ur, dated to around 2300 BC, document the establishment and management of the earliest known animal park” (Hamilton 2007). In ancient Egypt, for example, tamed lions were often kept by the sides of pharaohs thrones (Bostock 7). In sixteenth century Europe as well, animal collecting among the wealthy was a popular sport. “King Manuel the First of Portugal received monkeys and macaw’s from South America, grey parrots and baboons from Africa, and elephants, rhinoceros, and cheetahs from India” (Bostock 24).
Today, zoos often receive a lot of criticism for merely displaying wild animals for pure entertainment reasons, and without a conservation or protection purpose. Both zoos and aquariums have often been criticized for being unethical, and the premise of captivity is said to be detrimental to the cause of conservation (Maple 5).
However, zoos and aquariums reflect responsibility to help and promote animal conservation and protection. Without them, many may have never gotten the chance to see exotic animals such as tigers, elephants, or giraffes up close to examine and learn about their nature. Without zoos, almost all of the best observational, behavioral, biological, or genetically based research on several diverse species would have not been possible. And, without zoos and the help of fundamental captive breeding and reintroduction programs within them, some of the species that were most near the edge of extinction would have likely perished. Though sometimes perceived in a negative manner, zoos promote animal conservation and enrichment through research by studying species inside and outside the zoo facility, public education programs, and endangered species breeding programs.
The overall mission of a modern zoo is to work in the areas of science and research. The amount in which zoos contribute to science can be one of the major justifications of the institutions. Many zoos work hand in hand with universities and colleges to carry out detailed research studies that would be difficult to perform in wild settings. Science and research departments are found at many zoos and these departments conduct research through programs in the fields of taxonomy, behavioral research, and veterinary medicine research.
It is actually far better to study taxonomy, anatomy, and morphology on living specimens, versus examining deceased ones. This is because behavioral and characteristic observations can be made on live species, which is often a significant taxonomic classification factor. “Zoos can provide living examples for the study of taxonomy or classification” (Bostock...