Naples Zoo Menu
Top Ten Questions
10. Why have zoos instead of saving animals in the wild?

9. Do animals live longer in the wild or outside the wild?

8. Do the animals bite?

7. Where do zoos get their animals?

6. What about inbreeding?
5. Why do zoos have cages?

4. Do animals get bored in zoos?

3. What do the big cats eat?


2. Where does Naples Zoo get its funding?

1. How do I become a zoo keeper?

 

10. Why do we have zoos instead of saving animals in their native habitats?
Currently, we need both efforts. For example, in the twentieth century, the world lost three types of tigers. The most recent being the subspecies of tigers on Java that died out in the 1980s. The Javan tigers' extinction would have been preventable if there were representatives of these tigers in zoos.

More importantly, beyond the animals under their immediate care, today's AZA accredited zoos are also involved in over a thousand conservation programs in nearly a hundred countries around the world every year spending over 130 million dollars in field conservation efforts. In addition, the value of seeing the world's animals in person increases public awareness to help save species in the wild. Many influential people working to save animals can trace their love of animals to zoo visits as a child. A recent three year study is confirming the connection between a zoo and aquarium visit and concern for nature even further. To learn more about some of the groups and projects the Naples Zoo supports and encourages you to support, click Getting Involved.


9. Do animals live longer in the wild or outside the wild?
As a general rule, animals living in accredited zoos live substantially longer. As an example, big cats in the wild frequently live only 8 to 12 years, and this is if they survive a 50 to 80 percent mortality rate for the first two years of life. With proper nutrition, safety from severe injury, and routine veterinary care, big cats have a negligible mortality rate for early life and routinely live into their late teens and mid-twenties.

8. Do the animals bite?
Yes. Even the cuddly ones can use their teeth. Keepers must always stay alert — especially around safe animals. Guests frequently compare their friendly relationship with a domestic animal to be transferable to a similarly sized exotic. The differences, however, can be tremendous. A lesser cat like a serval or caracal is only two or three times the weight of a large domestic cat. Their instincts and background, however, allow them to be aggressive and bold enough to kill a small antelope or flamingo. Thus, a running child or young adult can easily be seen as prey. For this reason, we do not endorse the ownership of exotic animals as pets.

7. Where do zoos get their animals?
Obviously at some point, all non-native species zoo were imported. But for the majority of animals, that time is past except in special circumstances for the survival of a species. The vast majority of creatures seen in zoos were born in a zoo. Today's zoos are not sending off expeditions whenever you see a new animal at your local zoo. In fact, today most accredited zoos are helping to fund projects and send researchers over to see how they can protect the wild areas so the animals there will have a place to live in the future.

And it's been like this for quite some time. Since the passage of the United States Endangered Species Act in 1973, importation from the wild of endangered species has been highly regulated. The animals that zoos exhibit that were born in the wild are frequently animals rescued from the pet trade including exotic birds and reptiles. These animals were either donated by or confiscated from private owners or importers. At other times, zoos are called upon to create a safe haven for a population of animals that is undergoing immediate threat. Decisions like that can save tragedies like the needless extinction of the Javan tiger. All efforts were expended to protect them in the wild without a population outside the wild. Because of that decision, Javan tigers went extinct in the 1980s.

If you're considering buying an exotic animal, we strongly urge you not to. Just here in Naples, the zoo receives several requests each month from pet owners who don't want their iguana or snake anymore. For the most part, zoos — including Naples Zoo — do not have the resources to accept donated animals. Moreover, illegal smuggling and lack of proper care by owners have caused up to a 90% mortality rate for some species.


6. What about inbreeding?
Today's accredited zoos work cooperatively to exchange animals and arrange breeding loans to maintain genetic diversity to insure healthy populations for generations to come. Thus zoos keep records on the lineage of their individual animals and arrange with other facilities to introduce unrelated animals into their existing population. Programs like the Species Survival Plan are solely focused on this type of work. The zoo also cooperates with the International Species Information System which tracks over 2 million zoological animals of approximately 10,000 species held in nearly 650 institutions in over 70 countries on 6 continents.

Some species have so critically few numbers represented in zoos that this can become quite challenging. New genetics have made their way into zoos through some very rare situations. For instance, Malaysian officials relocate wild Malayan tigers (the same species you see at Tiger Forest) to a local zoo when they are found to be eating people or domestic animals. As conditions were becoming overcrowded at this zoo because they take in "problem" tigers, an agreement was made to bring some of these cats to the United States. Future tigers removed for man-eating and similar issues may find their ways to other zoos.

5. Why do zoos have cages?
Obviously, some form of barrier is required to protect animals like lions and antelope from each other and to keep zoo visitors safe. That barrier, however, can take on a variety of forms and are growing more varied as we learn more about the preferences and abilities of different animals. Certainly the cage is one form still used and the streamlined mesh of today's enclosures are a great advance over the thick steel bars of yesteryear. But the physical barrier is no longer the only possibility. Empty moats are used to house animals in some zoos where the barrier is not a wall or mesh, but a pit preventing crossing. This works exceptionally well for some animals but is dangerous for others who might seriously injure themselves falling into the moat or attempting to jump across it. Some primates can be wonderfully housed using water as a barrier as we do inside Naples Zoo. For the animals who respect the water barrier, this provides a natural setting for animals and clear viewing for zoo guests. Once again, this works well for some species but not for all. For example, some primates swim. Thus for some animals, a solid barrier of some sort provides the safest housing for both the animal and zoo guests.

Even in the wild, however, animals have barriers by which their movements are naturally restrained. Solitary cats cannot cross into a neighboring cats territory without fear of attack. Primate troops sing territorial songs or engage in showy exhibitions and sometimes physical aggression to establish their territory. The crucial question is not that some type of enclosure or barrier is used, but what activities can the animals engage in within that territory. (See Question 4 below.)

4. Do animals get bored in zoos?
Without the proper programs, they certainly can become bored. In the wild, animals' mental activity is kept focused by either concentrating on acquiring something to eat or avoid being acquired for a meal by somebody else. Social interactions are also important. Since the stress of threat is alleviated by safe housing and care, additional enrichment programs must be used as well as housing animals in group settings for those that are social.

Much of this is done daily by the zookeepers and Naples Zoo also has a Behavioral Enrichment Committee. The work of a properly educated zookeeper goes far beyond the daily cleaning and diet preparation. Part of their care for an animal or group of animals includes regularly developing new activities to keep animals mentally stimulated. This is especially true of the intelligent and creative primates, but includes the cats, birds, and antelope.

Enrichment includes not only the obvious toys which can be manufactured for the animal to play with (or destroy), but also may include inter-species interaction, supplemental foraging activities, and even the use of scents to increase curiosity about objects. With a proper rotation of activities and creativity among keepers, animals have the opportunity to engage in something fun or thought provoking.

3. What do the big cats eat?
Big cats are carnivores. In the wild, they eat other animals varying from insects up to a 2,000 pound buffalo. In the Naples Zoo, the big cats are fed a three-fold diet. For general health they receive a prepared carnivore diet. This diet is nutritionally complete and is similar to canned pet food bought for domestic dogs and cats. Just like the pet food, it is a ground product.

To give the cats an opportunity to use their powerful chewing muscles, they also receive chunks of beef varying between boneless sections they can quickly shear through and chunks containing bones taking longer to gnaw and chew up. A small portion of their diet also includes chicken. The cats also have a supplemental zoological vitamin powder rubbed onto the chunk beef and chicken.

2. Where does Naples Zoo get its funding?
Unlike many zoos, Naples Zoo currently receives no local, state, or federal tax funding for its work with animals. Therefore, it is our zoo guests and members and private donors who make this all possible. By paying admission, purchasing a zoo membership, or making a donation, guests ensure the continuation of the quality care provided to the animals housed within the gardens and the continuation and expansion of educational program offered to our guests.

1. How do I become a zoo keeper?
There are actually several schools in the United States which teach you about becoming a keeper: one in California (click on Teaching Zoo), one in Florida, and another in New York. Beyond those specific programs, a good start is a degree in biology or zoology from a respected college or university. In addition to a degree, most zoo applicants have shown some level of involvement with animals.

From working as veterinarian's assistant to volunteering in a zoo, there are a variety of ways to get some experience. Before then, checking books out of the library and learning about the world's animals and ecosystems is a great way to give yourself a head start into the zoo field. You can also learn much more on the website for the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

 

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