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Hug a Zookeeper!
by Stormy on July 17, 2010

A few thoughts on zoos and the animals that live there.

Are you a small furry animal living in a zoo? For that matter, a large animal? A scaly one? Feathery? Fishy? Catty? Beary? You're in luck – so long as you live in a zoo – it's National Zookeeper Week, celebrated the third full week of July every year. Zookeepers work in zoos and take care of animals there. They feed the animals, clean the cages, manage animal health and breeding programs and educate the visitors! Modern zoos are very different from the way animals used to live in captivity. All American zoos are accredited by the American Zoo Association and are rated by how animals are kept and managed and what types of educational, research and conservation programs the zoos offer. Minimum standards must be met to receive accreditation. Animal exhibits in modern zoos tend to be roomier and designed to match the animals' native environment. Animals are well cared for and socialized. These new principals in animal management are new innovations of the last few decades and replace centuries of animal abuse. Historically wild animals have been kept for fighting or entertainment. Their homes were small uncomfortable cells that were either too hot or too cold. Animals were not cared for. They were sometimes forced to fight, allowing people to bet on the outcome. In Imperial Rome animals were often pitted against slaves for the entertainment of the gentry. Even in the last century zoos were morally ambiguous places. In 1906 the Bronx Zoo chose to exhibit a Congolese pygmy (human) in their monkey exhibit to illustrate the evolutionary “missing link”. Humans were continued to be displayed in cages along with animals as late as 1931 in Paris and 1958 in Brussels. Zoos in undeveloped countries still tend to keep animals for entertainment rather then for educational or conservation purposes. Lack of regulations and the ability to make money through blood sport exhibits take precedence over the ethical treatment of animals. Even more developed countries, such as China, allow zoo visitors to purchase live goats and chickens to be thrown into carnivore cages for the predator's consumption. A lot of activist groups are actively speaking out against zoos. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is in the forefront of these (sometimes radical) organizations. It should be noted that many of these groups have identified problems and individual cases of abuses happening in American zoos, but on the whole, the modern animal captivity practices in the United States have advanced far past the barbaric animal displays of the past. American zoos are very active in endangered species conservation programs and are credited with keeping a number of animal species from becoming extinct. Life in American zoos is better now than it has ever been before! If you're a zoo animal sneaking internet access, please don't forget to give your zookeeper a hug. And if you're a large scary carnivorous animal, you should probably skip the hug so as to avoid having your zookeeper soil him or herself.

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