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 about 2,750 conservation programs in more than one hundred countries around the world every year spending over 160 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.
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 beyond.
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 for most people.
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 to weigh the significant, long-term responsibility for the well-being of that animal and the safety of others. Just here in Naples, the zoo receives several requests each month from pet owners who don't want their exotic pet anymore. Zoos including Naples Zoo do not have the resources to accept donated animals nor are they typically part of the overall collection plan. Moreover, illegal smuggling and lack of proper care by owners have caused up to a 90% mortality rate for some species.
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 2.6
million zoological animals of approximately 10,000 species held in over 800 institutions in over 80 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.
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 they 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.)
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, antelope, and other species.
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.
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.
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.
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 or interning 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.