The oldest existing zoo, according to the Wikipedia, is the Vienna Zoo in Austria which was founded in 1753. Yet as early as 3,000 years ago, the Chinese were known to already have at least one zoo. And in ancient Egypt, baboons and lions were kept and cared for inside temples.
Indeed zoos have been in existence for centuries and they have played a vital role in the preservation and protection of wildlife by serving as refuge for threatened species. A number of animals nurtured in zoos have been reintroduced into the wilderness.
A little over half a century ago, zoos had the animals kept in bare cages for public viewing. Today, with the help of scientific research, most zoos try to create an environment that closely resembles the animals’ natural surroundings. Many of the zoos today also try to make their visitors more cognizant of the distinctive behavior of each animal and of the importance of their (zoos’) conservation efforts. The presence of certain species in zoos guarantees their continued existence or prevents their kind from becoming extinct.
One very important tool in ensuring the conservation of endangered species is “captive breeding.” Many species have been bred successfully inside zoos and a number of them are now being reintroduced in their respective habitats. A complete cognizance of the species involved is required to achieve a high degree of success in captive breeding. For example, zoos are fully aware that for cheetahs to breed they must not be kept together all the time. This awareness has enabled one zoo to successfully breed cheetah cubs at an average of five per year.
Zoos play a very important role in educating the public about animal conservation. For instance, the signs and posters that zoos put up help make conservation problems more comprehensible. The public’s contact with the animals furthers concern for the latter’s problems. Also, most zoos today have functional divisions that provide relevant information and first-hand experience to school-children – things that are otherwise not offered in the school classroom.
Additionally, zoos afford an opportunity for scientists to make further researches, particularly about the conditions in which diverse species will flourish. Years ago, the practice of using animals to do certain maneuvers or tricks, or to give rides, was considered unnatural and deemed even injurious. It was only recently when it was ascertained that such activities in fact prevent boredom in animals, thereby enhancing their overall well-being. Toys, and sometimes even televisions, are provided by zoos to some animals to prevent them from being weary and restless. In some zoos, monkeys are made to solve puzzles so they can get at their food.
The prevailing inclination in zoos today is the doing away with large animals (such as elephants and lions) in favor of the smaller species which can naturally form a distinguishable localized population that can easily be exhibited in zoos. Other zoos have developed a system of reversing night and day conditions to put on display various nocturnal animals. Certain animals are likely to stay within the confines of zoos because of the relative ease of keeping and feeding them. Included here are the different kinds of snakes and other reptiles, as well as some of the fleet mammals, particularly zebras.