American Zoo Day
It’s American Zoo Day! Most people know what zoos are – places where people can go to observe animals in captivity – but do you know where the word “zoo” comes from? You might guess it has to do with “zoology”, the study of animals, and you’d be right. Zoo is an abbreviation of the term “zoological garden”, which was the original fancy name for such facilities. The first usage of “zoo” to describe such a facility was in the 1800s by the London Zoological Gardens.
Zoos, which are sometimes referred to as animal parks, come in many different forms. In addition to typical zoos, which feature animal exhibits that visitors can observe from either behind glass or fences, there are numerous other specialized zoos, such as:
- Safari parks, which keep animals in larger, more open areas that visitors can drive through in cars, observing the animals from the safety of their vehicles, while the animals are allowed to roam freely over large open areas.
- Aquariums, a type of zoo that is solely focused on aquatic or mostly aquatic animals including fish and aquatic reptiles, birds and mammals.
- Petting zoos, which usually feature domestic and tame animals, like those commonly found on farms, that visitors (usually children) can interact with directly through touching and feeding.
Zoos, in addition to having animals on display for visitors, play an important role in the preservation of endangered species, as well as educating the public about animals they may never otherwise get to experience up close. Many zoos also engage in research to further study and learn about animals. Captive breeding programs at zoos are important to help keep certain species from going completely extinct, and reintroduction programs can help to re-establish and invigorate wild populations. You may imagine that many zoo animals have been captured from their natural habitat, but today most zoo animals are the result of breeding programs within the zoo.
While zoos are sometimes considered controversial, many zoos today have worked to create large, spacious enclosures that meet the specific needs of the animals they house, replicating their native habitats as accurately as possible and ensuring that they are treated humanely. However, it is true that not all zoos live up to these high standards. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums is a non-profit organization that accredits zoos, thoroughly reviewing and inspecting them to make sure the animals within are well cared for. Additionally, they are focused on conservation and education programs to help spread the word about the importance of saving threatened animal species. Before visiting a zoo or aquarium, it’s always a good idea to check its accreditation status with the AZA to know that you are supporting a zoo that provides adequate care and is dedicated to the welfare and wellbeing of its animals.
So, if you decide to visit a zoo today on this American Zoo Day, remember that there’s more to zoos than just animals on display! They exist to educate the public about animals and promote the conservation and protection of species threatened with extinction.
Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: The first American zoo was the Philadelphia Zoo in Pennsylvania. It opened on July 1st, 1874, and the price of admission was 25 cents!