Studies have shown that most visitors to zoos go for a combination of family experience and entertainment. But one thing that distinguishes zoos from many family venues is that parents often recognize the educational value that comes with a visit to the zoo.
The information that both children and adults gather from viewing exotic animals can be tremendous, and for some children who seem to have an affinity for animals and animal conservation, the experience can be life changing.
They say that travel broadens the horizons, and in many ways, a trip to the zoo does the same thing. After all, to see the tremendous variety of wildlife found at most zoos in the wild, one would have to travel for thousands and thousands of miles, over the course of many months or years. Even then, certain rare species require tremendous perseverance and luck to get a glimpse of an animal in their native habitat.
Long before I ever decided to work in a zoo, and certainly before I went to college to learn about animals, I was gathering information about animals simply because I was interested.
Nature books and television programs first awakened my interest in the many amazing facts about animals and their interactions, and a trip to the zoo to see some of the species that I had learned about was a truly special treat. Seeing the animals in person, and picking up even more facts from the signs and information graphics in front of each exhibit just fueled my appreciation for the miraculous diversity of life on the planet, and more importantly, planted the seeds of concern about the future survival of these animals in my mind.
It has been my experience that nearly every family has someone who has this same love of animals. You can see them with each family that visits the zoo. They are the ones that act as interpreters in front of each exhibit, explaining the differences between the male and female sea lions, or why pronghorn fawns are a different color than the adults.
They are the kids who start by watching Dora the Explorer, and eventually National Geographic documentaries. They have a natural curiosity about animals and biological science, and a trip to the zoo is the best way to awaken a life long love for wildlife and animal conservation.
So if you know children like this, and you know they haven’t been to the zoo in a while, do yourself, them and wildlife a favor. Bring them to see the wild animals at the zoo. Who knows where it can lead them? And we can use the help.
Scott Silver is the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo.