Zoos And Zoological Parks

Wild animals have been displayed in captivity for millennia (Luoma). The first known large collections were assembled in Egypt around 2500 b.c.e. Early rulers displayed their exotic menageries, captured during campaigns or expeditions, for personal amusement and as symbols of wealth and political power. Romans later maintained menageries for bloody public spectacles, sending elephants, lions, bears, and other wildlife into battle in arenas throughout Europe. Urban zoos appeared in sixteenth-century Europe and North Africa; visitors ogled strange creatures captured on colonial adventures. In 1828, the first zoo dedicated to the scientific study of captive wildlife opened in London, and in 1889, the U.S. Congress established the National Zoo for the purpose of breeding native wildlife. As zoos continued to evolve in the twentieth century, they developed a broad mission that included research, conservation, education, and entertainment.

Zoos, aquariums, safari parks, and wildlife theme parks are popular worldwide. Approximately 400 professionally managed zoos exist in the world, in addition to thousands of roadside menageries and petting zoos (Chiszar et al.). Annual zoo attendance in the United States alone exceeds one hundred million (Nelson). According to studies conducted in the United States and Canada, one-third of the public has visited a zoo within the last twelve months, and 98 percent of adults have visited a zoo in their lifetimes (Nelson).

Despite their broad popularity, zoos are increasingly criticized on ethical grounds. As the public has grown more sensitive to animal-welfare and conservation issues, animal advocates have begun to question whether or not the benefits of zoos justify the incarceration of live, and often rare, wild animals. (Although the term zoo may refer to a broad range of animal facilities, for the purposes of this entry it will refer only to zoos and aquariums that meet at least minimum professional standards. These minimum standards are defined by the American Association for Zoological Parks and Aquariums [AAZPA] in the United States.)

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