zoo | National Geographic Society (2022)

A zoo is a place where animals live in captivity and are put on display for people to view. The word “

zoo

” is short for “zoological park.”

Zoos

contain wide varieties of animals that are native to all parts of the Earth.

Though people have kept wild animals for thousands of years, those collections have not always resembled modern

zoos

. The first

zoos

were created as private collections by the wealthy to show their power. These private collections were called menageries.

Wall carvings found in Egypt and Mesopotamia are evidence that rulers and aristocrats created

menageries

as early as 2500 BCE. They left records of expeditions to distant places to bring back exotic animals such as giraffes, elephants, bears, dolphins, and birds. There is evidence that ancient

zoo

owners hired animal handlers to make sure their animals thrived and reproduced.

Zoos

also existed in later civilizations, including China, Greece, and Rome. The Aztec emperor Montezuma II, in what is today Mexico, maintained one of the earliest animal collections in the Western Hemisphere. It was destroyed by Hernan Cortes during the Spanish conquest in 1520.

Modern Zoos

The model of the modern, public

zoo

became popular in 18th century, during the Age of Enlightenment. The

Age of Enlightenment

was a period in European history when science, reason, and logic were promoted as ideals of society and government. The scientific focus of the

Age of Enlightenment

extended to zoology.

During this time, people started wanting to study animals for scientific

reasons

. Scientists wanted to research animal behavior and anatomy. To do this, scientists and

zookeepers

had to keep animals in places that were close to, or

resembled

, the animals’ natural habitats.

The first modern

zoo

, built in 1793, opened in Paris, France. The

menageries

of French aristrocrats, including the king and queen, were taken by leaders of the French Revolution and relocated to the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes. The facility is still a busy and popular

zoo

in downtown Paris.

Early

zoos

like the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes were more like museums of living animals than natural

habitats

. Animals were kept in small display areas, with as many species as space would allow.

Today,

zoos

are meant to entertain and educate the

public

but have a strong emphasis on scientific

research

and species conservation. There is a trend toward giving animals more space and recreating natural

habitats

.

Zoos

are usually regulated and inspected by the

government

.

Types of Zoos

Urban and Suburban Zoos
Urban

zoos

, located in large cities, still

resemble

the smaller

zoos

that were popular 200 years ago. Often, these

zoos

sit in the middle of cities, making expansion difficult. There is little room for

urban

zoos

to grow, and many of the

zoo

’s buildings are historic landmarks that cannot be

destroyed

or redesigned.

In many

urban

zoos

, animals are kept in relatively small enclosures. Some animal activists argue that keeping animals in

urban

settings is cruel because of cramped conditions, noise, and pollution.

Urban

zoos

are common in Europe, while many

zoos

in the United States developed as sprawling parks in

suburbs

outside cities. These open-range

zoos

give animals more territory to roam and provide more natural

habitats

. This popular technique of building realistic

habitats

is called landscape immersion.

The San Diego Zoo, in southern California, is the largest

zoo

in the United States. It is a

sub

urban

zoo

that houses more than 4,000 animals (800 different species) in its 0.4 square kilometers (100 acres).

Landscape immersion

divides animals into their natural

habitats

, such as the tundra (with reindeer and polar bears) or bamboo forest (featuring pandas.) The

San Diego

Zoo

also includes a wild animal park, which is even more expansive (almost 8 square kilometers or 2,000 acres.)

Safari Parks
Larger than

urban

and open-range

zoos

, safari parks

are areas where tourists can drive their own cars to see non-native wildlife living in large, enclosed areas. These attractions allow the animals more space than the small

enclosures

of traditional

zoos

.

Fuji

Safari

Park

, in Susono, Japan, offers a traditional

zoo

as well as a drive-through

safari

park

. Visitors can take their own cars or one of the park’s buses. Fuji

Safari

Park

offers night tours, so visitors can see nocturnal animals, or animals that are active at night. At the park, visitors can also feed some animals, such as lions, from bus windows. Not all parks encourage or even allow visitors to feed animals.

Safari

parks

, especially in Europe, are often part of larger theme parks or resorts. They include golf courses and fairground attractions, such as games and rides.

Game Reserves
Game reserves

are large swaths of land whose ecosystems and native species are protected. The protections allow animals to live and

reproduce

at natural rates. Animals are allowed to

roam

free.

In the 1800s, a trip to huntbig game” (large animals such as elephants or lions) was called a

safari

. While some

game reserves

allow traditional

hunting

safaris

today, others limit visitors to a “photo

safari

,” where visitors can shoot photographs, not animals.

Animals in all

game reserves

are protected from illegal

hunting

, which is a threat to many endangered species. Legal

hunts

are regulated by the

government

.

Hunters

must purchase licenses and are strictly limited to the type and number of animals they can

hunt

. Poachers, or

hunters

without licenses, kill animals for valuable body parts. Elephants, for example, are killed by

poachers

for their ivory tusks.

There are

game reserves

in Asia, the Americas, and Australia. However, most

game reserves

are in Africa. Millions of visitors flock to sites across Africa to see the same animals that captivated audiences thousands of years ago. The biggest attractions are Africa’s “Big Five” species—lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, elephants, and water buffalo. The

Big Five

are not Africa’s largest species (although the elephant is): They are the most difficult to find and, when legal, to

hunt

.

Only recently has a single

zoo

, Gondwana Game Reserve in South Africa, offered all

Big Five

animals in one place. Gondwana sits on 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) near the center of South Africa’s southern coast. Like many large

game reserves

, Gondwana has diverse

ecosystems

that occur naturally and has no need for

landscape immersion

. In Gondwana, grasslands coexist with shrubland called fynbos. Visitors to Gondwana, like many

game reserves

, can stay in hotels right in the park.

Petting zoos
Petting

zoos

feature domesticated animals that are gentle enough for children to pet and feed. Sheep, goats, donkeys, and rabbits are common

petting

zoo

animals.

These types of

zoos

are found at parks and inside of larger

zoos

. Sometimes mobile

petting

zoos

travel with fairs or carnivals from city to city.

Specialization

Most

zoos

have specialized

enclosures

and

habitats

for specific animals.

Zoos

in cold climates, such as Novosibirsk, Russia, must recreate warm

ecosystems

for animals like lemurs.

Lemurs

are a type of primate native to the island of Madagascar, off Africa’s east

coast

. The summer temperatures of both Siberia and Madagascar are about the same—around 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit).

However, Madagascar receives about 200 to 250 millimeters (8 to 10 inches) of rain each summer, making it a humid jungle environment. Novosibirsk gets just 60 to 65 millimeters (2 to 3 inches) of

rain

and snow. The difference in winter

temperatures

is even more drastic: Madagascar is about 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit).

Lemurs

fur can keep them warm at this

temperature

. Winter in Novosibirsk is -10 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit). The Novosibirsk

Zoo

has two species of

lemur

with a

specialized

heated

enclosure

with high

humidity

.

Some

zoos

are dedicated entirely to certain species. Aquariums are types of

zoos

that exclusively house aquatic animals. The Sydney

Aquarium

in Australia has exhibits of all of Australia’s major water systems and is home to more than 650 native Australian species.

Aviaries and bird parks are another type of

specialized

zoo

. The Jurong Bird Park in Singapore has more than 8,000 birds of 600 species from around the world. Jurong has more than 1,000 flamingoes in an African wetlands

exhibit

that features a daily simulated thunderstorm.

Conservation

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the international organization for

zoos

, is concerned with the health of animals in

zoos

. The focus of environmental efforts takes the form of

research

, captive breeding of rare animals, and

conservation

.

Researchers

at

zoos

can study animals up-close. They can observe

behavior

such as mating and nutrition choices. Biologists and veterinarians are also available to treat sick or injured animals.

Captive breeding

of

endangered species

makes

zoos

valuable places for animal survival. Animals such as the black soft-shelled turtle, native to India and Bangladesh, are extinct in the wild. But they survive in several

zoos

around the world, with their health looked after by

biologists

.

The goal of many

captive breeding

programs at

zoos

is the re-introduction of animals into the wild. The California condor, a very large bird native to the west

coast

of the United States, has been re-introduced to its native

habitat

after breeding in

zoos

and

wildlife

parks. There are several breeding pairs of

California condors

in the wild today.

Critics of

captive breeding

programs say that releasing a few animals into the wild does little to help the species population. Animals are extinct in the wild

largely due to loss of

habitat

. The re-introduction of animals, especially large mammals that require vast territory for survival, does nothing to recover lost

habitat

. People continue to develop land for homes and businesses.

Zoos

often have

conservation

projects in the native

habitats

of the animals they keep in captivity. For instance, the

World Association of

Zoos

and

Aquariums

established a partnership with people in rural Papua New Guinea to save tree kangaroos. These rare species are threatened by loss of

habitat

and the growing population of Papua New Guinea: Villagers

hunt

the

tree kangaroo

for meat. A

zoo

program introduced a rabbit-farming program to address the

nutritional

needs of the villagers.

Zoos

also set up

conservation

sites where the

hunting

of

tree kangaroos

was outlawed.

While

zoos

have put more importance on

conservation

and humane animal treatment in recent decades, some critics say it is cruel to keep animals in captivity. Critics argue that living in captivity takes away wild animals’ natural

behavior

and instincts. Supporters of

zoos

say they play an important role in protecting

endangered species

.

Fast Fact

Modern Menageries
People still enjoy collecting animals to display in their private homes. The American entertainer Michael Jackson, for instance, had a menagerie that included tigers, giraffes, parrots, and, of course, his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles.

The Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar kept an enormous private zoo that included elephants, buffalo, and camels. Some of Escobar's hippopotamuses, native to Africa, escaped into the Colombian jungle. After Escobar's death, the rest of the animals were sold or donated to zoos around the world.

Fast Fact

City of Brotherly Animals
The first zoo in the United States opened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1874. The Philadelphia Zoo remains one of the most important zoos and facilities for breeding rare and endangered animals.

Fast Fact

Zoo-Literacy
Many books of fiction, nonfiction, and historical fiction concern zoos.

Life of Pi is a novel by Canadian author Yann Martel. The father of the main character, Pi, is a zookeeper at the Pondicherry Zoo in India. When traveling across the Pacific Ocean, from India to Toronto, Canada, the boat carrying Pi, his family, and all the animals of the zoo sinks. The only survivors, alone on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, are Pi and the zoo's Bengal tiger, whose name is Richard Parker.

Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War is a nonfiction book written by Yukio Tsuchiya and illustrated by Ted Levin. The book tells the story of three elephants of the Uneo Zoo in Tokyo, Japan, in the time leading up to World War II.

Pride of Baghdad is a graphic novel written by Brian K. Vaughn and illustrated by Niko Henrichon. The factual story, of lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo as the war in Iraq began, is told from the lions' point of view.

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Jamar Nader

Last Updated: 11/18/2022

Views: 5610

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jamar Nader

Birthday: 1995-02-28

Address: Apt. 536 6162 Reichel Greens, Port Zackaryside, CT 22682-9804

Phone: +9958384818317

Job: IT Representative

Hobby: Scrapbooking, Hiking, Hunting, Kite flying, Blacksmithing, Video gaming, Foraging

Introduction: My name is Jamar Nader, I am a fine, shiny, colorful, bright, nice, perfect, curious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.