The Future of Zoos
What would possess eleven Applied Animal Science students (AAS) to travel eight hours in a crowded van, through snowstorms, and freezing temperatures to visit Buffalo, New York in February? A progressive, two-day symposium co-hosted by Canisius College Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations and the Buffalo Zoological Gardens on the “Future of Zoos”. While the symposium will be available in print about a year from now, AAS students from the Thompson School of Applied Science are known for applying knowledge with action that is relevant to real-world situations.
This symposium exposed AAS students to global, professional leaders from all aspects of the current and often volatile movement that is forcing humans to justify or change current animal care models with other species. This movement is most apparent with companion animals, farm animals, and now our zoological parks. Exposure to conflicting viewpoints in a constructive setting modeled how to work through and with differing perspectives in a professional manner. This was an outstanding opportunity for our students and could be related to challenges facing the industrial model of animal agriculture or even the changing roles of animal shelters and sanctuaries worldwide.
The speakers were asked to present their 50 to 100 year vision of zoological gardens. The topics spanned from bioengineered life, robotics, cloning extinct species, to zoo design, educational missions, architecture, conservation, and animal welfare. Speakers were applauded or challenged by fellow panelists on their predictions.
Some of the points raised were restoring American Bison in our national parks instead of the domestic cattle for a future food source or repopulating the plains with an extinct species such as the Mammoth. Acknowledging that self-awareness is present in some other non-human species and that complex social lives of such species cannot be replicated in captivity at this time. Can the use of robotics replace the animal interaction experience many humans seek out when attending petting farms or zoos? How will exhibits showcase a realistic view of flora and fauna with animal welfare and conservation in mind? So what do humans do to save other species in the natural environment without unintentionally “semi-domesticating” them through managing wildlife in the natural environment or zoo breeding programs?
Fascinating and thought-provoking issues were explored. While the majority of the world will have to wait for the book, AAS students are already professionally prepared to explore and discuss emotionally charged issues. Respectfully, from any perspective.
- Allison Powers, Applied Animal Science Program