I have strong, yet contradictory feelings toward zoos. A zoo, at its ideal, serves not just as a place to see animals but to learn about them and the need to preserve their dwindling natural environments.
At the same time zoos have a great moral failing. They are prisons to innocent animals. A polar bear that would roam through hundreds of square miles over a frozen Arctic Ocean is confined to one square block in front of gawking tourists during a New York heat wave. And not everything inside a zoo is to educate, some aspects are mostly to entertain. When zoos train sea lions to jump through hoops for cheering crowds they encourage us to view animals as tools to be used for our own desires. My mixed feelings are about whether zoos should exist for education purposes; there is no confusion with pure entertainment: that should not exist.
When I was a young boy I visited a rainforest exhibit at the Central Park Zoo and it fascinated me and kick started the consciousness that I possess today. As an adult I spent years living on the edge of the Amazon rainforest and even a few nights sleeping beneath its canopy. My decision to refrain from eating meat and countless others are because of an environmental consciousness that began at the Central Park Zoo. Ironically, if not for this consciousness born in part from lessons zoos taught me I would not think to question their legitimacy.
Ultimately my tenuous position can be summarized by a plaque seen inside the Bronx Zoo. “[W]e will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”