I post a lot of photos from zoos and, for the most part, I am in favor of them.
I am not, however, naive. I’ve been to some, pardon the language, real shitholes. I do not post photos from those places. (This is not a story of one of those places.)
Almost all of my photos come from AZA accredited zoos (CAZA in Canada, EAZA in Europe). These places are required to prove to their peers that the animals are healthy – physically and psychologically. They are required to be involved in the science of conservation and, increasingly, to have some sort of in situ program in place, protecting or rehabilitating specific ecosystems so there will be a place for the animals to live in the wild. Every zookeeper from an accredited zoo that I’ve ever spoken with wishes that animals could live in the wild and be more free from the gawking public.
There is, however, another type of zoo. Discovery Cove (owned by SeaWorld) is an accredited experiential zoo, where it tries to provide something of a “visit to the wild” experience to people who can’t afford the time or money to actually travel to the far reaches of our planet. A lot of the “theme park” zoos are moving in this direction and, in general, I can say it’s positive.
These places are a lot more expensive than a trip to a “regular” zoo, but a hell of a lot less expensive then taking a trip to the tropics. This approach also allows them to streamline the guest experience. For most people, this is great. It allows people with various disabilities to participate in things that would otherwise not be an option for them. This photo is of a “dive experience” where everyone wears pressurized helmets and the group spends about 20 minutes walking through a huge aquarium. If you’ve ever done a real dive, there’s a lot missing. However, it is a lot closer than a lot of people will ever get. From that perspective, I am in favor of this change … mostly.
As someone who has traveled, if not to the far reaches of the world, a bit further than the average American, the sameness of the experience was troubling. It is a lot more like going on a Disney ride than being in the jungle trying to see the flash of feathers that indicates a rare bird that almost no one will ever see. In their attempt to streamline the process for everyone, they’ve lost a lot of the wonder.
Still, there is wonder if you look for it. Being able to enter the environment of a sea urchin instead of pulling them into yours is a different experience. For me, it was one well worth doing once. It’s certainly worth it for people who can never do it any other way. However, I’m not sure if I, personally, will go back.