Zoos as Places of Connection

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This is Tim Gauss, a student in the Conservation Psychology class at UC San Diego Extension, Fall 2018. The two articles were illuminating. While I have fond memories of going to zoos, I had not thought of them in connection with fostering more general positive attitudes toward the natural environment as well as a sense of connectedness. I appreciate how both authors presented environmental problems within an ethical framework. Reasons for forging a new relationship with the environment are numerous, but I think it is important to have a commonly recognized ethical basis (particularly in trying to engage societal behavioral change over a long period of time). Dr. Schultz noted that technology has become a mediator in our experiences not only with the natural environment, but to others as well. Of course that is the case, but making that statement in the context of interacting with wonderful natural creatures in a zoo made our individual and collective disconnectedness more real. It also implied the problem that it is. The zoo as a place to enjoy animals for themselves is also a powerful statement in what it did not have to say—animals are not just important as our food and economic chattel, our objects of sporting (e.g., racing), or even our pets. My anthropocentric assumptions are deeply within me. The circles of “self” and “nature” with varying degrees of integration is a really good teaching tool; I think it can encourage people to look at their relationship with nature without feeling judged, knowing there are varieties of lifestyle experiences and stages of life and that a more-connected life is a process with always opportunities to improve. Finally, I like Dr. Grajal’s point that a zoo is not simply a place for hunmans to get information about animals and nature and depressing news regarding conservation; it is a place for people to connect with animals as wondrous symbols of nature. While I enjoyed and appreciated the articles, I found the introductory statement that 10% of the world’s population visits zoos and aquariums around the world on an annual basis frankly hard to believe. I don’t mean to get hung up on that fact/assertion and it would be wonderful if true. It does seem a high figure to me, though.

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