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A few months ago my gf and I got season passes to the Los Angeles Zoo because it’s like $5 more than a day pass. To take advantage of that $5, I spent much of the summer writing there every week. It sounds strange, what with all the noises and smells and horrific LA summer temperatures, but it’s been amazing. There’s so much going on that’s interesting and inspiring. Of course there are the animals and their various habitats/enclosures, but there are also the social interactions between the zookeepers and the different methods parents have of keeping their children under control. What I find most interesting, however, is how differently people view and treat animals.

My feelings on zoos are really torn. On the one hand, zoos care for and support dying populations, often with the eventual goal of reintroducing species to their natural environments. On the other hand, we’re the ones who have caused most of these species to become endangered, through development, deforestation, and poaching. But zoos raise awareness of these animals so future generations might be less inclined to destroy crucial ecosystems. But we keep the animals in small pens in climates they’re not used to. But zookeepers love animals and treat them well. But many zoo visitors are “tap on the glass” types, annoyed if an animal isn’t “doing something.” (Apparently I have more than two hands.)

Zoo exhibits and enclosures are mostly built so human visitors have the best viewing experience of the animals (because that’s how zoos make money to support  animals, etc.), even if that means providing unnatural environments. Condors are maybe my biggest source of frustration in regards to my feelings on zoos. California Condors, the largest flying birds in North America, came insanely close to extinction in the latter half of the 1900s. Thanks to conservation efforts and breeding programs, however, their numbers are increasing in the wild.

Then there are Andean Condors, which are “Near Threatened,” one step below “Least Concerned” in terms of conservation status. This means that, while their numbers are certainly monitored, there currently isn’t any real danger of extinction. Andean Condors are even bigger than their California cousins, with wing spans up to 10 ft., yet they’re often kept in enclosures smaller than my living room—an animal built to soar hundreds of miles a day over mountain ranges reduced to a sad, hopping shut in so we might catch a glimpse of its “majesty.” Sometimes zoos are a lifeboat, sometimes a prison.

Another thing that really interests me is how concerned we are to support and provide refuge for animals in regions where we aren’t the least interested in aiding the human inhabitants. Everyone loves pandas, but we ignore the horrific things that go on in China daily. We’re obsessed with lions, tigers, elephants, and other big game animals, but these great beasts come from some of the poorest regions in the world, areas of Africa and Asia we don’t like to think about. Zoos, man. I’m so confused.

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What’re your thoughts on zoos? Let me know in the comments. And while you’re at it, feel free to suggest a topic for next week. Both this week and last week’s topics were suggestions, and I’d love to keep the streak going! See you next Thursday!

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