About The Meaning, Nonsense And Future Of Zoos: An Ark Behind Bars?

Millions of people love to go to the zoo. Critics say that money is made there with the suffering of caged animals; the idea of ​​a zoo has survived. However, zoos could perform new tasks in the future – and look completely different.

One side speaks of an important contribution to education, science, and species protection, while the other side says that zoos are crammed into animals for purely entertainment and commercial purposes. There are many approaches to image improvement – and these have now reached virtual reality.

A visit to the zoo with smart glasses and experiencing up to dinosaurs thanks to this extinct species is already promised in Guangzhou, China. In 2018, the world’s first VR Zoo opened there. With the “world’s largest VR Park,” Dubai wants to revolutionize zoo visits, among other things – but it is still questionable whether animals will be kept entirely in captivity in the future.

From an expert point of view, the VR concept offers completely new opportunities to immerse yourself in the world of animals. According to the US zoo expert Ben Minteer, the actual zoo concept, which is based on real animals and kept in enclosures, is still “trendy”.

“Fundamental flaw”

It is the “powerful and original transaction between the wild animal and the human being,” which is the real attraction of a zoo visit, as Minteer said, according to “Independent.” The author of the book “The Ark and Beyond,” which also deals with the future role of zoos, sees zoo operators as being challenged – a realignment for a “more ethical generation” and the protection of biological diversity are top priorities.

In this sense, quite a few zoos have long been committed to conservation and breeding projects. In line with the motto more space for fewer animals, the animals are kept in a manner that is as species-appropriate as possible and to which living spaces are based on nature. “It is important to us that the visit to the zoo is sustainable, that people observe animals here, learn something while doing so, and are interested in protecting the animal world,” says the Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna.

The goal is to “create an enriching and sustainable environment for people, plants and animals,” says zoo planner Jon Coe, who has already left his mark on dozens of zoos. The landscape architect, described by the “Times” magazine as a visionary, does not hide a “fundamental flaw” from his customers since even the best zoos were based on the “basic idea of ​​captivity and coercion.”

Showcase project “Zoo360”

However, Coe is convinced that animals can be mainly given natural behavior even in a zoo. The “Zoo360” project, which was implemented in the US city of Philadelphia, is a major showcase project for Coe’s work. Since 2006 there have been five outdoor enclosures for lions, cougars, leopards and jaguars connected by several underground and above-ground corridors.

Amur Tiger overlooking the crowd in Zoo360’s Big Cat Crossing. August 24, 2016. Philadelphia Zoo
Amur Tiger overlooking the crowd in Zoo360’s Big Cat Crossing. August 24, 2016. Philadelphia Zoo

The concept, which has now also been implemented for other animal species, has more than proven itself, according to Philadelphia Zoo managing director Andy Baker. Media reports also talk about an idea that could shape the zoo of the future.

Visiting the zoo as a trip around the world

Since the reopening in 2014 into the five “bio-zones” of Madagascar, Amazon-Guyana, Sahel-Sudan, Patagonia, and Europe, the Paris Zoo has been repeatedly seen as a showcase project. In Leipzig, a large-scale conversion project was finally christened the “Zoo of the Future,” and, like in many other zoos, the redesign of the old enclosures in natural and appropriate facilities is the focus of an ongoing program.

“At the latest when the visitor reaches the so-called Kiwara savannah, which is home to ostriches as well as zebras, antelopes, and gazelles, it becomes clear that the old-style zoo with bars and fences is a thing of the past,” says Leipzig in the news magazine, ” Focus. ”

“Whether the Arctic or an African savannah, tropical rainforest or indigenous forest and water landscapes: The animal facilities allow a trip to a wide variety of animal life areas,” says Schönbrunn Zoo. The oldest still existing zoo in the world can even score with the public as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Schönbrunn – but in terms of animal husbandry, the zoo has been changing for decades.

“Species-appropriate modern living space”

Back then in 1996, the “most modern elephant facility in Europe” was opened, and around the 250th birthday in 2002, a rainforest house was opened. As a “further milestone in the constant further development of the quality of the zoo,” a new polar bear enclosure followed in 2014 and in August this year a “new, natural water landscape,” with which the Schönbrunn hippos have now received “a species-appropriate and modern habitat.”

Elephants at the Detroit Zoo ca. 2004
Elephants at the Detroit Zoo ca. 2004

Skyscraper zoo and safaris

Coe also relies on this concept, which, in its projects, focuses on creating an optimal living environment for zoo animals and improved visitor experience. The orientation depends not least on the location, size and structure, as the “Time” magazine underpins using three examples from Coes’ pen.

For smaller and “medium-sized” zoos, specializing in an animal species such as big cats and a “high-rise zoo” in city centers would be an option. According to “Time,” there is space for aquariums and “a piece” of the rainforest.

The Cabarceno animal park near the city of Santander in northern Spain is already opting for the option of viewing animals in the style of safaris, as provided in the “Elite Mega Zoo” model. In the 750-hectare facility, which was opened in 1990 and recently expanded by a cable car, the boundaries between the safari park and classic zoos are merging anyway.

From Zoo to “Zootopia”

“Much more than just a classic zoo visit” is also on offer in the Danish Givskud Zoo. It is still unclear whether the “Zootopia” project will be implemented thereafter, the safaris and dinosaur park. This relies on even more freedom for the animals, semi-transparent glass walls and mirrored vehicles for the visitors and, with the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), on an internationally renowned team of architects.

There will be no walls or cages in Zootopia
There will be no walls or cages in Zootopia

BIG is also behind the major project that is already under construction at the zoo in the Danish capital Copenhagen. A pair of pandas from China are expected to guarantee success there. With an enclosure costing around 20 million euros, the Copenhagen Zoo now wants to set new standards with the giant panda.