Nowadays the concept of the zoo in itself provokes quick and often contrasting reactions in the majority of the population. Some people believe that zoos should be abolished completely due to the fact that they represent horrific prisons where the animals serve out life-sentences. For others zoos are simply pleasant places to spend a happy day out with the children, while for some people a visit to a well organized zoo is the perfect opportunity to acquire information from various sources; information boards, the vision of the animals themselves and their distinctive noises, smells….
It seems, however, that no one is indifferent to the concept of the zoo. Whether feelings veer towards negativity or positivity they are always strong, sometimes rational but often simply instinctive.
The “fundamentalist” category, who often refuse to listen to other opinions, insist that zoos are completely gratuitous institutions and that it is always inexcusable to deprive any living creature of its “freedom”. This romantic and perhaps rather superficial view, although derived from good intentions, does not correspond to the reality of things. At least 90% of animals in present-day zoos were born in captivity (decades ago most animals were captured in the wild and often did not survive the stress, being transported to foreign locations and the new conditions in which they had to live). It should also be remembered that any specimen in its natural habitat is never truely “free” but is always the “prisoner” of intraspecific hierarchic patterns, incurable illnesses, violent death and the stress of living in the constant presence of predators, as well as the perennial search for food and water.
It should not the thought, however, that captivity is in any way preferable to life in an animal’s natural habitat. Every species and every specimen of that species has evolved to inhabit a specific environment and no other alternative can ever be better than the original. The answer to the dilemma of whether “captivity” is acceptable and whether zoos have the right to exist is somewhere in the middle and is summed up in the following chapter where the “ideal zoo” is defined.