on June 17, 2001
David Hancocks has a lot of bad things to say about zoos - but he doesn't come at it from a wing-nut "zoos are evil" perspective. He criticizes them, justifiably and intelligently, for doing a poor job. As he sees it, zoos should be able to help animals and truly educate people about nature (of which fauna are just one part), but most often they don't do so well enough.
He goes through the history of zoos, from ancient menageries to Disney's Animal Kingdom, and shows how that history relates to political, religious and scientific trends. He explains lucidly how zoos should (and sometimes do) interlock zoology with conservation, botany, geology, architecture and other fields. He doles out praise to various institutions when merrited - which is in several cases, but sadly, far outweighed by the times when zoos have failed. It's time to start doing a better job, while there's still time.
This book will give you a lot of food for thought, and make you see animals and nature and zoos in a new light. It will makes you see zoos' flaws, but also their potential.
on July 10, 2001
See the excellent review of this book in the journal, Science (Vol. 292, page 1304, 18 May 2001), by Michalel H. Robinson, the former director of the US National Zoo. The role of zoos is normally conceived of as fourfold: to promote recreation, education, research and conservation. He concludes that, in fact, only the very best zoos realize this potential. How many visitors, for example, leave a zoo knowing more about animal needs or their native habitats than when they entered? This reflects a failure of zoological parks to promote "biological literacy." Part of the problem is the frequent catering of zoological parks to show off charismatic vertebrates to humans desiring to see them. Yet it is increasingly recognized that effective conservation must be ecological in scope and based on large-scale "in situ" preservation of habitats. This book calls for a new vision of Zoological Gardens, to help save the world around us.