I’ve never been a fan of zoos or animals in captivity but recently; I was able to see a slightly different side of this idea while visiting the BIOPARC of Doué la Fontaine outside of Angers, France during a field trip in my Biodiversity class.
One of the major problems with animals in captivity is that their normal development of their natural being is completely disturbed at all levels. They are affected by extreme boredom, anxiety, lack of exercise, and poor quality of food especially in poorly run zoos. With my beliefs in mind, I was not too happy to go to the BIOPARC. Surprisingly, I was able to open my mind to a different perspective during my field trip.
Near the Loire Valley, this zoo was built into a sedimentary rock quarry providing a very natural experience with waterfalls and vegetation for the animals as well as open air for the birds to fly around in. All of the animals kept here were born into captivity and never brought in from the wild. Some of these animals are currently being reintroduced into their natural habitat and monitored over a period of time if they seem fit to survive. If many of these animals were not kept here they would probably be extinct or near extinction today. With over 1,000 animals from 123 different species, the BIOPARC only houses endangered species or species belonging to vulnerable habitats. 41 of these species are on the IUCN’s Red List of threatened species (International Union for Conservation of Nature), classified as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Nine of their species are Critically Endangered, which is considered the most endangered species in the world. The rest of their species are among the Near Threatened or Least Concern group.
Many of these animals are perfectly happy and healthy in their environment with full time attention from staff, veterinaries, balanced diets, maintenance, and enrichment but sadly I also saw other animals such as the wildcats that obviously did not have enough space. When we asked our tour guide about this issue, she mentioned this was something they are currently working on expanding but with little space left to build, it has been a difficult task.
One component I really appreciated that the BIOPARC takes part in, is the involvement of human populations. The park assists and supports local organizations dedicated to the preservation of endangered species and valued natural environments. With their belief in a strong relationship between man and animals, lasting conservation projects can be successful. Without raising awareness on why it’s important to protect these species and their environment, there would never be opportunities for our future conservation pioneers.
There are obviously still many zoos across the globe that vary in the standard of care they provide for their animals and what their general purpose is. Although I am still skeptical about many of these zoos, I also think it's important to try to mimic the natural habitat of these vulnerable animals as best as possible in order to prevent their populations from extinction. There is never a perfect solution in conservation that’s what makes so many of these topics extremely controversial and very hard to handle. I encourage you to think about your own views and opinions and write to me or to your friends for suggestions and for thought provoking conversations on matters such as this one.