As a zoology student I find it incredibly frustrating when people ask me if I want to work in a zoo. The short answer to this question is no, but the long answer would probably include an explanation of what zoology actually is – a study of the physiology, evolution, behaviour and conservation of animals (among other things!)
I have mixed feelings on zoos. My family didn’t visit them much when I was a child; I only have vague recollections of seeing elephants when I was young so when I travelled to Tanzania and Kenya it felt as though I was seeing all of the animals for the very first time.
It was therefore quite ironic that one of the activities for new zoology students in my first week in Manchester was a trip to Chester zoo.
I went with an open mind but no amount of imagination could conjure up the expanses of grassland, or the watering holes where these animals would gather in the wild – the enclosures were small in comparison and I saw animals pacing up and down next to the fencing. It seemed so wrong to have these creatures kept for human entertainment.
However, there is a different side to zoos – they can play an important role in conservation.
Many captive breeding programmes have helped to bring species back from the brink of extinction, and some do release animals back into the wild (although sometimes the offspring are simply sold on to live in other zoos).
They can also serve to educate the general public on the plight facing many animals in the present day, and this in turn could inspire people to change their lifestyle in order to help certain animals (for example checking products for irresponsibly sourced palm oil or reducing energy usage).
Some important research is carried out in zoos. Near the elephant enclosure at Chester zoo there were signs explaining research that is being carried out into EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus) – the zoo funds this research, which will hopefully create a vaccine for elephants both in captivity and in the wild.
Despite my views on keeping wild animals in captivity, I do have to admit that zoos could be crucial in saving many endangered species. That doesn’t mean I want to work in one though!