Fall is such a great time to get outdoors. With kids in school, they need the extra outlet of going outside and extracurricular activities. For children and adults of any age, it’s a nice change in weather and routine. One of our favorite things to do in the fall is going to the zoo. You’re not dealing with the hot sun of summer, which helps avoid the crankiness and overheating of parents and kids. And zoos are also a great option for toddlers and preschoolers, as you look to prepare them with a more structured week of activities. (We talk about the importance of a routine in getting your child ready for next school’s year here. ) So we thought we’d give you some going to the zoo tips — along with what to look for in the better zoo experiences (hint, an eye on conservation).
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Why You Should Still Take Your Child to the Zoo
While most moms went to the zoo as children, times have changed. There has been an evolution (for the better) in terms of how we think about animals in captivity. Damian Aspinall who runs the Aspinall Foundation and two wildlife parks likes to see zoos who are truly participating in conservation — moving toward protection of endangered species and their reintroduction into wild places.
And recently Ben Hatch at The Telegraph wrote about why you should still take your child to the zoo. Yes, we live in an enlightened world, as Ben says, in which if we could all afford it then it would be better to take a safari trip and go an animals’ natural habitat instead of visiting animals which have been put in zoos.
But, the reality, Hatch argues, is that most people will only get a chance to see animals up close by going to a zoo. It can help us to develop a love of animals and protect them, hopefully. Here at SMG, we have conservation in mind. And the bulk of a child’s conservation attitude comes from parents’ helpful guidance.
So, in that spirit, we know you would love to take your children to better zoos where there could be more habitat space and more conservation in mind. And a mommy’s wallet is one area that can wield true power for better things. With that focus, here are some pick-your-better-zoo tips …
Look for Good, Clean Zoos
Look for zoos with larger habitats, where more natural behaviors can happen on their own. The habitats should be all about the animals and the best possible environment for them, even if that means less viewing space for the human visitors.
Look for Education
Good zoos have lots of education available about their animals, including animal conservation.
Look for Zoos that Enrich Animals’ Lives
Basically, this means the animal’s habitat at the zoo was built for the animal first, not the visitors. Many animals need acres of free space. (And most would argue that some animals, like elephants and polar bears, need to be only in the wild for optimum health because they need miles of living and walking space to stay healthy.) Many animals also need interesting things to do — such as toys or habitat designs that enrich their lives. There should also be shade, water, and food. Is the animal mostly standing on concrete? (not a good sign) The Humane Conservation organization certifies zoos that treat animals in a more humane and enriching way, looking to raise the standards of zoos — a list of their certified zoos and aquariums are here.
Look for Zoos that Focus A Lot on Conservation
This is the way of the future, which is about rehabilitating endangered species, learning about species with an eye to help them better in the wild, and reintroducing species into the wild. If a zoo is only about animal collections, then it hasn’t graduated to a more modern view and function … and you might look elsewhere for a different zoo or animal experience. Thankfully, many accredited zoos are moving the conservation direction. Here’s a list of accredited zoos.
Consider Alternatives To Zoos
If you don’t have a more conservation-oriented zoo near you, consider some alternatives. Maybe consider a family pet (dog, cat, hamster, fish) that would encourage your child to learn about that species and help take care of it. Watching animal videos, like from Disneynature, helps educate in an entertaining way. There are also many wild animal cameras set up (try out Explore.org) which you could cast onto your widescreen TV — wouldn’t it be an interesting choice to have running on your TV in the background as a child works on a puzzle or plays with toys, with a wild zebra coming in and out of the screen?
You can also plan family vacations (even day trips) around nature outings or short hikes. Perhaps plan trips to places that take you out in the wild or visit better zoos. Responsible Travel has a lot of these type of nature and culture-oriented vacations, with an eye on having a minimal tourist impact.