If you have ever
been to a zoo with your family you know that it is normally a very
fun experience. A zoo, at its core, is a place where animals are
held in enclosures, displayed to the public, and are heavily managed
by zoo staff, but this definition has really come to change over the
past several decades. With changes have come major improvements for
the animals housed in zoos, which include chimpanzees.
In the past,
Humans were often not able to care for the chimpanzees as much as
they needed, and they often came from the wild. This
means that they were captured from the jungles of Africa at a young
age. Often mothers are killed by poachers and the babies get sent to
zoos. Mother chimpanzees are very protective of
their young, just like human mothers and would never allow their
babies to be taken from them.
As demand grew
for having chimpanzees in zoos, keepers and other zoo staff began to
realize that care of chimpanzees needed to be improved for the
welfare of the animals and to increase the popularity of the zoo.
Previously, little was known about the biology of chimpanzees and
what was needed to house them in a captive setting, but research has led to many zoo
changes. Even though we may love to see chimpanzees in zoos we
really need to think about what is best for the animal. If you truly
love something you would never want to see it hurt.
are an estimated 1,000 chimpanzees kept in zoos around the world,
however only a few hundred of them are kept in accredited
institutions. This means that these chimpanzees have improved
welfare, well-being, compared with the chimps of the past. Housing a
chimpanzee in a zoo used to mean that chimps were kept in very
sterile, small cages and were usually housed alone. This allowed the
public a good view of the cage and they could even get up close or
feed the chimpanzees. We have really come a long way from this. Cages have now
morphed into lush enclosures that try to resemble the natural
These enclosures now aim to keep humans and chimps distant from one
another (to decrease disease transmission) as well as to give the
chimpanzees a place to hide if they do not wish to be viewed by us.
How would it make you feel if you were in your bedroom and hundreds
of people kept watching your every move?
There were some
positive things that came from having larger exhibits. One was the
ability for multiple chimpanzees to be housed together, which is
necessary when we consider that in the wild chimpanzees could always
sit with a friend if they wanted to. Chimps, like humans, are social
creatures and need social group to live in. Also, increasing the
distance between humans and chimps means that feeding the animals in
zoo has been discouraged. Modern zoos employ the knowledge of zoo
nutritionists who plan the diets of all animals in the zoo. This is
very important for their health and well-being.
In addition to
having larger enclosures, less exposure to human traffic, and a
better diet chimpanzees need to be mentally stimulated. Think about
what your little brother or sister would do if he or she was bored
and didnít have any toys to play with. Chimpanzees have about the
same mental capabilities of a 4 or 5 year old human and are very
clever and inquisitive. This means that, just like your baby brother
or sister, they need all sorts of toys and items to investigate and
play with to keep them busy.
The people in
charge of zoos never intentionally want to hurt their animals. In
fact there has been a lot of effort to make the lives of zoo animals
better. In the United States there is an increase in zoo membership
to associations such as the AZA, Association of Zoos and Aquariums,
which imposes very high standards on zoos in order to remain
accredited. This accreditation is like an elite club that zoos like
to be in because it shows the public that the zoo is making an
effort to be a better place. In addition to accreditation, zoos
that house chimps are required to pass inspection by the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This much inspection
ensures that chimpanzees are getting the best care we can give them
in a captive environment.
As a result of
the improved conditions chimpanzees have been more successful in
zoos. By learning more about how to take care of the chimps in zoos
people have become more aware of the need to protect the chimps in
the wild. More and more often zoos promote conservation efforts to
try and help wild populations. Zoos are also more aware of where
their animals come from and so no longer take baby chimps from the
wild, further endangering the species. Different zoos cooperate
together to make sure that all their chimpanzees have a home. This
includes making sure the chimps donít breed unless the zoo can
afford to take care of the new baby and the relocation of chimps to
zoos that have more room for them.
Message from CAC'ers
We CACís loved to see chimpanzees in their
natural habitat; they look so free and natural. Sometimes
it is sad to see such a majestic animal like a chimp in a
zoo not being able to enjoy the same freedoms as a wild
animal, but we understand that the animals in zoos are what
we call ambassadors. The animals in zoos help us teach
people how to love animals and why we should do our best to
conserve the wild places where each animal is native to.