We’ve still got one more post coming to wrap up our trip through Provence, but I wanted to take a minute to call attention to National Zoo Keeper Week, which is celebrated during the third week of July each year. During the week, zoos nationwide honor animal care professionals and the work they do in animal care, conservation, and education.
No, I’m not a zoo keeper. Nor do I personally know any zoo keepers. So why do I care about National Zoo Keeper Week? Well, if you’ve been following our blog for a while now, you know that we made a trip to Svalbard in March to see polar bears in their natural habitat. We did that because I LOVE polar bears. Unfortunately, the weather this winter was really warm and sea ice did not even form around parts of Svalbard where it normally does. So, we didn’t get to see any polar bears in the wild. I’ll admit I was disappointed to not see any. I’ve long had a fascination with them and they’re my favorite animal to see at the zoo.
Then in May, I was in New York City to meet up with my mom for a mother-daughter weekend. We went to the Central Park Zoo where we saw CPZ’s star polar bear, Gus. The sun was blazing in a near cloudless sky and after peering into the enclosure, I finally spotted Gus. He was napping in a little sliver of shade close to one of the glass viewing windows.
At first I was thrilled, pushing my way through children to get a front row spot at the glass to see Gus. Then as I tweeted a picture of him, I thought to myself, “Gus looks hot. I bet he is dreaming of hunting seals in Svalbard.” Observing the enclosure, I realized how un-like his natural habit the enclosure really was. Polar bears spend most of their life out on the sea ice and swimming from floating piece of ice to floating piece of ice. Sure, Gus had a pool he could cool off in, but was it really the same?
Gus’ caretaker happened to be at his enclosure at the same time and I got to spend a few minutes learning more about Gus. I even learned that polar bears can live up to 18 years in wild and 35 years in zoos.
While it made me sad to see Gus trying to stay cool, I also realize zoos afford us the opportunity to have encounters with animals we might not ever see otherwise. Without these magnificent creatures in zoos to peak our interest in them, conservations efforts to help save endangered species like the polar bear would probably be a whole lot less effective. It’s the children that go to zoos and fall in love with the animals who grow up to become zoo keepers or the field scientists that help educate us and lead those conservation efforts.
Next time you visit a zoo, take a moment to thank the zoo keepers for devoting their lives to caring for these animals and affording us the opportunity to view disappearing wildlife.
So what do you think? Should animals be kept in zoos?