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Reference Desk February 2012

Zoos of the Future May Include Dodo Birds and Woolly Mammoths, but No Chimps

    BUFFALO, New York, February 15, 2012—Animal welfare and harmony with nature were central, recurring themes of the Future of Zoos Symposium held recently at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.

    “Our future zoos will have an ever-increasing role in conveying respect for nature, the promotion of human–animal connectedness and the animal welfare implications that follow,” said Michael Noonan, PhD, professor of animal behavior at Canisius and director of the college’s Institute for the Study of Human Animal Relations, which co-hosted the Future of Zoos symposium with The Buffalo Zoo on February 10 and 11. “The fact that the topics of animal welfare, education, and conservation permeated the symposium, speaks well to where we now are as a species,” said Noonan. “It reflects well on our humanity.”

    woolly mammoth

    Twenty-one national and international experts including zoo directors, animal behavior experts, conservationists, and world-renowned zoo architecture visionaries, gathered at Canisius to tackle the question of how zoos will look 50 and even 100 years from now.

    Australian author, architect, and zoo director emeritus, David Hancocks, stressed that zoos need to put animal welfare first and foremost. Hancocks said welfare would be the central pillar of his zoo 50 years in the future.

    Symposium topics included: the demographics of future zoo patrons; the expectations of future zoo visitors; conservation as a viable mission; the unique education mission of zoos; zoos as resources for scientific research; and bioengineered life and the moral implications for future zoos.

    “Rapidly growing technological advances will play a key role in the future of zoos,” said Noonan. “Computer ‘wetware’ and robotics will also likely be part of the zoos of the future.”

    Jeffrey Yule, PhD, coordinator of the environmental Science Program at Louisiana Tech University, discussed the possibility that species that are currently extinct could have representatives in zoos if we are able to clone them from existing tissue samples. John Fraser, PhD, from the New York City-based think tank, New Knowledge Organization, further discussed bioengineered life and the moral implications.

    Catherine Doyle from In Defense of Animals, predicted that chimpanzees would be granted legal personhood in our country and would, therefore, not be kept in zoos of the future.

    Buffalo Zoo president Donna Fernandes, PhD, examined future zoo visitor demographics and said that urban zoos will play a larger role in providing access in a crowded world. She also stressed that zoos must adapt as demographics shift to mostly nonwhite populations.

    In the same vein, political science professor Eric Trump, PhD, of Saginaw Valley State University, predicted that future city zoos may actually decentralize in a way that they would occupy many satellite locations dispersed throughout any given city.

    On the other hand, St. Louis Zoo Director Jeffrey Bonner, PhD, predicted that in some places much larger zoos will emerge, so that the boundary between what is a zoo and what is a wildlife park will begin to blur.

    Going even further in this direction, landscape architect Monkia Fiby of Vienna, Austria, spoke about the possibility of managed exchanges between wild and zoo populations of animals so that maximum genetic health is maintained. She also predicted that as the human population continues to increase, the world will see more animals that live in “semi-wild” conditions.

    Ron Kagan, director of the Detroit Zoo, predicted a future that will see a greater quality of life for individual animals. “Zoos owe a life-long commitment to see that each animal receives the very highest quality of life,” said Kagan.

    Terry Maple, PhD, author and zoo director emeritus, stressed the need for visionary leaders to chart the course of change.

    “Optimism permeated our discussions,” said Noonan. The “zoos will do more and do better” was a theme repeated over and over again during the symposium. “The feed-forward cycle connecting zoo-based education and zoo-based conservation missions was illustrated repeatedly,” said Noonan. “A similar connection between the growing role of zoos as bases for scientific research and conservation was emphasized.”

    Noonan is director of the college’s new graduate program in anthrozoology, the discipline that focuses on humanity’s relationship with other species. The only American program of its kind, this new initiative places a major emphasis on an examination of the relationships between people and their companion animals, but also includes animals in art, literature, science, agriculture and zoos.

    Source: Canisius College

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