The Born Adventurer

Conflicted Thoughts on a Kid’s First Visit to the Zoo

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zoo

A zoo offers a chance to see awesome animals, sure. But is there a better way to stimulate kids’ interest in wildlife that’s better for both them and the animals?

I took Anneka to the zoo a few weeks ago. I mostly wanted to get her to the petting zoo to meet some goats that she could pet.

The whole experience was a bit conflicting for me. More and more, I dislike the very concept of zoos. It’s impossible to not notice some of the reports of animal cruelty at zoos, circuses, theme parks and other venues. I’m walking past these huge, magnificent creatures that are evolved to roam far and wide (and I’m not talking about the desert tortoise, OK?).

Combine that with being routed through the gift shop to exit the grounds and the overpriced concessions, and I just don’t know what to think about zoos.

zoo

This is how close we came to a salt-water croc in Australia. Surely that’s a bit better than a zoo?

On the other hand, I see value in zoos in two ways:

  • Researching animals to better protect those in the wild. I can see how up-close interactions with scientists help humankind better understand animals. It must allow some opportunities that wouldn’t be available otherwise. Still, I imagine there has to be a better way than – using the Phoenix Zoo as an example – having animals live a few hundred feet from the Phoenix Sky Harbor flight paths.
  • Stimulating kids’ interest in wildlife. Seeing an elephant or a tiger must spark some wonder in a kid’s mind. How many veterinarians, zoologists, ethologists, ornithologists and other -oligists found their career path because of a childhood visit to a zoo?
zoo

This isn’t a zoo, a circus or a petting zoo – this is a rural didgeridoo store near Darwin, Australia.

One of my challenges as a dad is finding that balance between trying to model ethical behavior and being an absolute preachy killjoy. I don’t want to be That Parent … the one that won’t stop badgering the little person by turning every simple experience into a bombardment of bigger life lessons. Kids sometimes have to just be kids; and as a parent, I want to let Anneka form her own opinions and take from situations what she will without my constant interference.

In case you were wondering about what Anneka thought about her first visit to the zoo, she was largely unimpressed until we got to the goats. I think seeing a big, slow-moving (or completely knocked out asleep) animal from a few hundred feet away is still too abstract for her. She may not even recognize it as an animal since it’s so far outside her frame of reference.

Anyone have any thoughts on the zoo issue? What’s a good way to expose kids to animals in a better environment?

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