Zoos have been around for thousands of years and for a long time have largely been an uncontested part of societies. However in the last 20 to 30 years many zoos have changed as sentiments and communities have changed. I believe that zoos today have to be ethical because good zoos today are about people. Good zoos are about inspiring and influencing people to rethink the way they live and the choices they make every day to support wildlife and a sustainable future. I think that this is one of the most impactful ways zoos can achieve what should be their central goal which is wildlife conservation. Good zoos need to do essential conservation, science and wildlife recovery work and educate and inspire visitors about the challenges of the future and our planet, including messages about animals in the wild, and related messages and measurable behaviours that people can do individually and in their community to play their part in a sustainable future for both people and wildlife.
Wildlife globally is in crisis. It is now considered that 50% of species are listed as threatened and many species are in absolute critical conditions. It is estimated that more than 700 million people visit zoos and aquariums worldwide each year. With this many people as an active audience, and thousands of magnificent species in a captive situation, zoos have a moral and ethical responsibility to be working to address the conservation crisis and inspire humans to get involved and take action for conservation.
Zoos can help prevent the sixth mass extinction not only through breeding threatened and priority species but through inspiring people to take action to protect wildlife. Research shows that people are more likely to change their values and behaviours when they are interested and motivated to hear a message. A great zoo experience can and should provide this. Zoos need to develop and implement well researched and planned experiences go beyond just immersing visitors in a zoo environment but that lead to behaviour change. These experiences need to be based in well established theories of planned behaviour and ultimately zoos need to measure the impact of this. I am not saying that this is easy. It is not but neither is the challenge that our society needs to face to ensure that our planet can survive.
To foster a culture of care zoos cannot compromise the welfare of the animals that are in their guardianship. Good zoos have a duty and obligation to both the welfare of the animals in their care and to the conservation of wildlife. There is no Planet B. I believe that zoos need to step up and play their part in inspiring and influencing our communities that we need to given more than we take from the planet. Zoos have this opportunity through the number of people that they host each day and through the fact that they have been strong parts of communities for hundreds of years.