Zoos have long been a recreational attraction for children. Originally described as park-like places where animals were kept in cages or large enclosures for public exhibition, they were known as zoological gardens or menageries.1

Today’s zoos offer a wide range of design from the small city parks that have animals in cages to large safari parks that allow the animals to roam in more realistic natural settings. Most good zoos describe their missions as recreation, education, conservation, and research.2

While adults and children alike enjoy zoos, there are many different activities offered to especially appeal to children. Many zoos offer an area in the zoo where children have the opportunity to interact closely with tamer zoo animals, such as goats, sheep, llamas, ponies, and birds. These petting zoos appeal to younger children especially giving them the opportunity to experience animals up close in a safe environment.3

Zoos provide great potential for educational experiences for children, ranging from the informational signs provided near animal enclosures to full time educational departments. Interactive animal shows are educational and fun for children and offer a more meaningful learning experience than just watching an educational movie or animal show on television.4 Many hands-on experiences are offered to children, which make an invaluable impact on their learning.

One of the primary functions of zoos is the conservation of animal species. Intended as sanctuaries for rare and endangered animals, the best designs incorporate the animals’ environmental, behavioral, and emotional demands. With many of the world’s animals in danger of extinction, zoos and sanctuaries often provide the only way to preserve them.5 Zoos also offer wildlife rehabilitation to many animals with the goals to rescue, to rehabilitate, and then to release them back to their natural environment.6

Many large zoos have extensive research programs that study the behavior, health, and growth of the animals in their care. Recording observations and comparing the results of animals in the wild and in captivity give insights into better care for the zoo animals as well as uncovering mysteries about animal behavior.7

The San Diego Zoo is one of the most popular zoos in the United States. The zoo is home to 4,000 rare and endangered animals and is on 100 acres. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, originally called Wild Animal Park, is located 30 miles north of San Diego and is home to over 3,500 animals on 1,800 acres. The Safari Park is an expansive wildlife sanctuary that places the animals in a natural setting giving children and adults alike the opportunity to see animals living together as they would in the wild. The San Diego Zoo also has one of the largest zoo-based research centers in the world, the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.8

The Bronx Zoo in Bronx, New York, is most famous for their work in conservation and rehabilitation. The Bronx Zoo is the flagship of the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose four zoos and aquarium staff manage a collection of 17,875 animals.9 The Wildlife Conservation Society manages approximately 500 conservation projects in more than 60 countries saving wildlife and wild places around the world.10

  • 1. “Zoo.” Dictionary.com. < http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/zoo > 20 May 2011.
  • 2. “Recreation.” Good Zoos. < http://www.goodzoos.com/recreate.htm > 20 May 2011.
  • 3. “Zoos and Children.” Zoos and Wildlife. < http://www.zoosoft.co.uk/Zoos-and-Children.html > 20 May 2011.
  • 4. “Education.” Good Zoos. < http://www.goodzoos.com/education.htm > 20 May 2011.
  • 5. “About Zoos.” Good Zoos. < http://www.goodzoos.com/about.htm > 20 May 2011.
  • 6. “Zoos and Wildlife Rehabilitation.” Zoos and Wildlife. 20 May 2011.
  • 7. “Research.” Good Zoos. < http://www.goodzoos.com/research.htm > 20 May 2011.
  • 8. “About the San Diego Zoo.” San Diego Zoo. < http://www.sandiegozoo.org/disclaimers/aboutus.html > 25 May 2011.
  • 9. “Press Releases – WCS.org.” Wildlife Conservation Society. < http://www.wcs.org/press.aspx > 26 May 2011.
  • 10. “About Us.” Wildlife Conservation Society. < http://www.wcs.org/about-us.aspx > 26 May 2011.