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The earliest reference to the term ‘Dysfunctional Zoos’ that I am aware of was in November 2006 and here it was actually used as an appropriate though out of zoo descriptive.
It next appeared in a talk given by Sally Walker at the October 2010 65th WAZA ANNUAL CONFERENCE. This was entitled “Dysfunctional zoos - can we level the playing field?..in time?”. She later expanded on her thoughts on this very important issue and wrote “Dysfunctional Zoos and What to Do” and published it in ‘ZOO'S PRINT MAGAZINE Volume XXVI, Number 4 April 2011’.
It is an important article and one which should be read by all and everyone working in zoos and those planning to work in zoos. Those working in good zoos already recognise the problems that exist with dysfunctional zoos and the damage they are doing to conservation. Those within dysfunctional zoos need to see themselves for what they are.
What is a Dysfunctional Zoo?
There always be a group of people who believe that all zoos are dysfunctional. They are the blinkered acolytes of the various anti-zoo groups who fail to recognise that all zoos are not the same. There are GOOD zoos and there are BAD zoos. The good zoos want the bad zoos closed down as much as and probably more than the ill informed anti-zoo groups. If these anti's were to do a little bit more real research then it may actually be possible to make a real difference.
In the terms of Sally Walkers excellent article a dysfunctional zoo is:
"a type of captive wild animal facility that does not function adequately (or at all) for even the most essential canons of zoos, e.g., education, conservation or research."
"animal collections open to the public which don’t function as conservation facilities, rather just the opposite"
It would be easy enough to presume or assume that this then referred to the zoos in the third world or zoos in undeveloped countries. This is far from true as some of the worst offenders, the most Dysfunctional Zoos are in the developed West. To make matters worse some of these have the ears of governments and so send out their message of ignorance to the world.
Having a lot of money, a fancy website, a plethora of YouTube videos, and regular donations to conservation bodies does not a good zoo make.
Dysfunctional Zoos are commercially exploitative. Nothing wrong with making money but to exploit the animals at the expense of genuine conservation, education and research is the mark of a zoo that knows no better and cares even less.
Surely donations to conservation bodies is a good thing?
Without a doubt donations to conservation groups is a good thing. Such funds can be used for the protection of wildlife habitat, research, education and more. Where this goes wrong is when such donations amount to no more than bribes to the conservation bodies to turn a blind eye to what the donating zoo is up to.
Good Zoos have genuine sincere education programmes and do not promote rubbish as fact.
Good zoos belong to genuine officially sanctioned breeding programmes. Breeding animals is easy. Breeding animals is NOT a breeding programme. Sometimes NOT breeding is as important as breeding.
Good Zoos do not irresponsibly breed when there is no good zoo available or prepared to take the progeny. Passing on to a dysfunctional zoo should never, ever be contemplated. Far better to consider euthanasia.
Good Zoos do not purposely breed hybrid animals or generic mutations like white tigers or exhibit 'freaks' for public titillation.
Good zoos join their local membership organisation and so they can share knowledge and expertise.