The Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) ‘London Zoo’, the world’s first scientific zoological institution, first opened its doors in 1828. It never ceases to amaze me how such an impressive, well-stocked, and beautiful zoo is hidden amongst the hustle and bustle of central London. This gem, tucked away in Regent’s Park, captivated me as a child and is partly why I went on to study an animal-related subject. For this reason, I picked London Zoo as the destination for the first Reading University Animal Science Society trip.
In an ideal world, animals should not be kept captive. Many people feel this way towards zoos, and I agree. However, in a world that is far from ideal, the work carried out by the ZSL can be justified. I see London Zoo as an advertisement and catalyst for conservation than a place of cruel captivity.
When we visited the tiger enclosure, we were shown a map with species that had become extinct in recent years. This map also illustrated the demographics and risk status of extant tiger species. Seeing this alongside a Sumatran tiger mother and her cubs, whose very existence is evidence of conservation, was very powerful.
We seemed to have visited the zoo during a baby boom! In addition to the tiger cubs, we were lucky enough to see a baby gorilla.
Many visitors seemed interested in the turtle soup kitchen exhibit, located in the reptile house. This was to raise awareness towards the current use of wild turtles in traditional Asian cooking.
As with most businesses, a proportion of the revenue generated by ZSL is reinvested. When I say reinvested, I’m not speaking solely from a business stance. Money is used to fund various conservation and research projects that benefit wild animals. It is known fact that the majority of zoo animals are not endangered, this doesn’t mean that endangered animals do not indirectly benefit from this work.
I cannot say the resident silverback gorilla seemed thrilled to be in captivity. In the wild, they often have a harem of females, rather just one. He did not look happy, which really makes you question which animals should be kept in captivity. There is a big conflict between conservation and welfare in zoos where a balance needs to be established. Can we really justify conservation if it’s at the expense of welfare?
I strongly believe that some animals can live quite happily in captivity, whilst others cannot.
If you get the chance, I would recommend heading down to London Zoo and seeing what you think. It is located walking distance from Regent’s Park and Camden Town tube stations.