IN RECENT times a quiet revolution has swept through the more progressive zoos of the world. As an outward sign, they have remodeled their exhibits in keeping with the more humane “landscape immersion” concept—the reproduction of the animals’ natural environment, complete with plants, stonework, vines, mists, sounds, and even other compatible animals and birds.

Though expensive—about $1.2 billion is spent on improvements for zoos and aquariums annually in the United States alone—changes are considered necessary in view of the zoos’ ambitious new role.

The Mission for the Next Century

With biological poverty threatening the planet, the leading zoos of the world have defined conservation, education, and scientific research as their mission for the 21st century. Inspired by the challenge and impelled by its urgency, some zoos have even discarded the name zoo altogether, preferring instead such terms as “wildlife sanctuary” or “conservation park.”

Shining the torch in the new direction is the publication The World Zoo Conservation Strategy. Described by one writer as “the most important document the zoo community has ever produced,” Strategy is, in essence, a zoological charter; it “defines the responsibilities and opportunities of the world’s zoos and aquaria towards the conservation of the variety of global wildlife.” Dispelling any doubts about the new ethos, Strategy adds: “The very right of existence of a zoo or aquarium is in fact dependent on what contribution it makes to conservation.”

Public education and scientific research, especially into captive breeding, are vital to this new role. Among today’s youths are the zookeepers of tomorrow, who will have the responsibility of preserving the salvaged remnants of a growing list of species extinct in the wild. Will they handle this trust wisely and with dedication? And will mankind in general take a more enlightened view of nature? To this end, Strategy encourages each zoo to become an educator, to see itself as part of “a worldwide conscience network.”

Zoos Unite in a Global Network

Because of the sheer magnitude of their task, many zoos are uniting to form a global network, presently comprising about 1,000 zoos. International bodies, such as The World Zoo Organization and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, knit these zoos together and provide coordination and direction.

Pointing to a compelling reason for such cooperation, the book Zoo—The Modern Ark says: “If the silent stalker, inbreeding, was to be kept at bay, a zoo could no longer be content with managing its own little band of, say, Siberian tigers. Rather, all captive Siberian tigers in all the zoos of a continent—or even worldwide—had to be treated as a single population.”

5Yes, hundreds of each species are needed to minimize or eliminate inbreeding—a precursor to infertility and extinction—and this is clearly beyond the capacity of a single zoo. Says Strategy: “This great mustering of all available powers will be necessary to give our Earth’s biosphere . . . the best possible chance of survival. There are many who believe that if we fail to conserve other species we will fail to save ourselves.” Of course, this pessimistic attitude does not take into account the Bible’s promise of a restored paradise earth.—Revelation 11:18; 21:1-4.

Credit: Awake 1997 publised by JW

[Credit Lines]
Bison and Cheetahs: Zoological Parks Board of NSW
Rhinoceros: National Parks Board of South Africa

[Credit Line]
Tiger and Elephants: Zoological Parks Board of NSW