'Blackfish' concerns aside, animal parks still good for kids
'Blackfish,' a documentary film about orcas in captivity, raises concerns about the treatment of animals in wildlife parks. While conditions, financial models, and effectiveness vary from zoo to theme park to circus, here are five reasons to keep bringing the kids.
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Outside pressure (from films like "Blackfish") can play a positive role, too. SeaWorld's response to the film "Blackfish" has been combative (this lively back-and-forth between SeaWorld and the filmmakers gives you a sense of the feisty tenor) but knowledge that outside observers care deeply about the welfare of captive animals – and are willing to write or make movies about it – can only up the pressure and stakes on organizations to get it right and keep moving forward.Skip to next paragraph
James Norton got his professional start at the Monitor as an online news producer, before moving over to edit international news during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since leaving the Monitor in 2004, he has worked as a radio producer, author, and food blogger.
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2. They help animals in the wild
Animal parks (and their donors) represent motivated organizations that have a vested stake in preserving wild habitats and populations of animals. As a counterweight to poachers and developers, they're a critical voice on the scene.
3. They're legitimately educational
Book and Web searches are fine and dandy, but to really gain an appreciation for the miracle of biology that is an elephant, or octopus, or ostrich, it really helps to see one in the flesh. It gives the mind something concrete to hang all those fun facts and scientific observations upon, and it stirs the imagination, too. There are far worse ways to stimulate young minds than putting them in close proximity to an alien life-form, and letting them sort out all the differences between animals and people – and all the shared ground, too.
4. They help preserve endangered species
Saving threatened species takes time, money, and advanced educational training, and animal parks, zoos, and aquariums are among the few places that bring all those assets to bear on the problem of species extinction. To what extent is it OK to monetize another species? How about if some of the money goes to preserve its future? These aren't easy questions to answer, and they're loaded with shades of gray, but they give you a sense of the kind of calculations ethical zoos and other wildlife parks have to go through on a regular basis.
And beyond work done to preserve the long-term viability of species, animal parks also often serve as refuges for injured or otherwise vulnerable animals.
5. Visiting animal parks is a family-friendly activity
Few places are so tolerant of the antics and volume levels of kids as animal parks – it's a safe space for moms and dads who want to spend quality time with their excitable, moody, sometimes high-intensity little ones. Simply giving parents a place to decompress and hang out with their kids is a serious social benefit that shouldn't be overlooked.
So, how often will I be taking my son to the zoo? As infrequently as humanly possible, if I have any say in it. But if my zoo-loving wife wants to lead the charge, she's got my support.