How to visit a zoo

Have you ever wondered why you are going to the ZOO? If you asked them this question, probably most of you would answer that you are going to spend a nice day outdoors, see the animals and, in many cases, entertain the little ones in the house. All these reasons are very praiseworthy, and respond to the playful and entertainment aspect that zoos have traditionally had. But attention, this is only one of its functions, because there is MORE. Spending a day at the zoo would have to provide much more than a day of fun, and the existence of the zoo as such, should also have other purposes apart from mere entertainment . A zoo should also have an educational component and inform the public about the species exposed and the conservation of biodiversity. It should also facilitate scientific research, in this way, we would know more about animals and we could use this knowledge to contribute in a more efficient way in their conservation. It is in our hands to make zoos take seriously the role they have in the conservation of biodiversity, it is not worth to say it, they have to do it! Y. How can you tell if a zoo contributes to conservation or not? If you want to know, the next time you go to the zoo do not look only at the "showcase". Go further and try to find an answer to the questions we propose below.

Steps to follow:


About the size of the zoo's facilities Do animals enjoy well-being? Before answering, keep in mind that a zoo is usually a mosaic of accommodation, some old and outdated and other modern and updated, hence in many cases it is not easy to generalize.It is obvious to think that, just as people need a minimum space to live with dignity and in this way to ensure that our wellbeing, animals have space needs that respond to the ecology of each species and the number of individuals that is in the facility. So animals should not be limited in their movements. We must know the species to determine if its spatial demands and design of the installation respond to their needs. If a species is by definition arboreal, it would not be normal for it to develop all its activities in an installation without any tree, vine, rope or high space to climb. We must therefore be consistent and consistent with the needs of the animal, to know if the design of the installation, both vertical and horizontal, is sufficient or adequate. When designing an installation, all the needs of the animal must be taken into account. This implies knowing their intimacy needs and what type of structural enrichment can be done so that these animals do not develop aberrant behaviors due to the installation they are in. If we can pass through the same facility at different times of the day, we will observe if the animals make full use of the facility and its resources and if the sites that offer privacy are effective. If we observe that the animals do not make profitable use of the facilities that are exhibited there, it is probably as a consequence of a bad design.


The five freedoms It is logical that above all, the welfare of the species housed in zoos should prevail. If the animal is not in good condition, doubtful will be its contribution to conservation. On the other hand, do not forget that the vast majority of animals that can be seen in zoos are wild animals (like a parrot or a seal), that is, not domesticated (like a dog or a cow) and therefore not adapted to live under human control. For this reason, wild animals kept in captivity require very specific accommodations and cares that ensure that the animal enjoys the well-being and health it should. How do you know if an animal enjoys welfare? Well, get an answer to this question is much more complicated than it seems, because it is an arduous task to assess all the factors that can intervene in the welfare of an animal leaving aside the subjectivity, but what is indisputable, is that the animal in question, at least, should have: 1. Water and food 2. Adequate housing to develop each and every one of its patterns of movement (eg running, swimming, digging, climbing, braquear.etc) 3. Veterinary care (including preventive veterinary care, the most important if we take into account that in many cases, once the animal becomes ill, little can be done to improve it) Veterinary medicine of exotic species is not as developed as we might think) 4. Possibility of expressing their normal behavior patterns (this implies a social structure similar to what would be expected in the wild, adequate equipment and complexity of the enclosure, etc.) 5. Possibility ad to avoid stressful situations or fear (for this there must be buffer distance between the public and the animals; visual barriers that the animal can use to avoid having to maintain constant visual contact with humans; escape routes to hide, etc.). These five principles are based on the "Five Freedoms" developed by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (UK).


Education for children and adults is one of the main objectives that a zoo must fulfill. When we visit a zoo, to know if it is a good center, we must ask ourselves: Does the zoo offer information about the species exhibited through the display of posters? (ex: scientific and vulgar name of the species, area of ​​distribution, habitat, social structure, behavior, nutrition, etc.) and about its state of conservation? Do you offer guided tours or organize activities on the conservation of biodiversity (be they colloquiums, courses, conferences, etc.)? Are there educational talks about the animal species exhibited in which they talk about their biology and their conservationist status? Are they open to the general public or only to schoolchildren?


Does the zoo avoid the use of wildlife for the performance of shows (dolphinarium, falconry, exhibition of reptiles, etc.)? These shows tend to reinforce behaviors that are not part of the natural repertoire of the species. This alteration of their natural behavior pattern can compromise the behavioral competence of the individuals, diminishing their viability if they are reintroduced to their natural habitat (one of the reasons why zoos justify the maintenance of wild animals in captivity).


Are the accommodations safe and prevent the animals from escaping ? It is of vital importance to avoid the escape of potentially invasive alien species to preserve the autochthonous species. In fact, some autonomous communities have developed plans whose objective is to avoid the invasion of exotic species. If there is such a plan, does the zoo comply? Does the zoo prevent the public from making contact with the animals ? Do not forget the risk posed by zoonoses (any infectious disease that can be transmitted from other animals, wild and domestic, to humans or humans to animals) for humans.


Do the facilities have environmental enrichment? The existence of environmental enrichment in the accommodations is stipulated in Law 31/2003, so it should be a daily fact that zoos hire specialized technicians in the application of environmental enrichment programs. ABOUT NATURALIZATION If we care to know a little about the origin of the animal and the biomedio where it is, we can establish if the naturalization that we have before is distorted or responds to the behavioral and physical needs of the species hosted there. Naturalization often responds to the ideal image of seeing animals surrounded by plants, rocks and beautiful waterfalls, rather than a real need or a coherence with their original habitat. In fact, and although it may seem an arduous task, it is in many cases the result of using coherence when designing and placing the objects that will form the installation. There are cases in which it may be more difficult to establish if this giving a case of false naturalization, since the inaccuracies can be minimal and almost imperceptible for inexperienced eyes. This does not imply that they are not highly important, since certain plants, wood or objects can pose a serious threat to the wellbeing and health of individuals.


ABOUT THE ANIMALS Obviously, the main thing and the reason why we go to the center, is to see wild animals. That means that once we have fixed ourselves in all the things that surround him, from the design of the installation, to the naturalizations, the security of the animal and the enrichment, we will look at the animal and we will see what consequence it is having everything in its wellness. If we observe an animal with aberrations, with stereotypes, with behavioral problems or with recognizable health problems, it will be possible that any of the subjects discussed above did not respond to the physical and behavioral needs of the animals contained therein. Sometimes, animal welfare also depends on some things that an ordinary visitor could not observe: the interior structures, the bedrooms, the feeding, etc. However, since none of our perceptions could be argued in an absolute manner, we must formulate our proposals conditionally. Despite this, the vast majority of cases respond to a common denominator that establishes that internal parts are of lower quality than external, since these are not in view of the general public, and therefore, marketing is not necessary in these situations.


Around the world thousands of animals in zoos are locked in artificial environments, with few stimuli, little enrichment, without the opportunity to escape the public's gaze. They often develop abnormal patterns of behavior, in an attempt to cope with their forced lack of life goals. Even in so-called "best zoos", anomalous behavior is present, and may be animals that we see walking up and down - pacing, rocking-rocking, vomiting, or even self-mutilation. In the evaluation of the zoos of the United Kingdom, carried out by Zoo Check (Zoo Health Check 2000), 80% of the great zoos and safari parks of the United Kingdom presented / displayed one or more animal that showed a stereotyped behavior. Some of the behaviors presented by bored and frustrated animals, have a basis in the activities they do when they live in freedom. They can begin as normal behavior, but in impoverished confinement, it can become compulsive and unnatural. Then they are easily identified because these behaviors are often simplified and overrepresented, especially when the animals are more stressed.