Someone said to me recently that, "Zoos exist primarily for the benefit of animals and the protection of genetic diversity etc. and not for the entertainment of people who visit them."
That may be the opinion of some people, but I disagree, and here's why.
I disagree that zoo's exist primarily for the benefit of animals.
I know a few zoos in the USA are free for visitors, this is the way I would like all zoos to be. Available to all as an educational resource and a place of recreation.
But take away the gate receipts and most of the zoos in the world would have to close and the animals euthanized. Even the government funded zoos rely heavily on visitors for money.
Zoos/menageries/animal collections, whatever you like to call them, existed a long time before anyone thought of conservation/preservation of endangered species/genetic diversity etc. Something which was pioneered by Gerald Durrel in the 1950's.
While it is good that zoos have gone this route, let's not forget that zoos play an enormous role in society and have done for thousands of years. In the days before television zoos were a primary source of entertainment. To others, zoos are a source of education. To see the sheer size and power of a large cat or bear is an experience that cannot be replicated by the Discovery channel.
Only by people seeing animals up close can they ever develop any respect for them, respect leads to interest, interest leads to understanding, understanding leads ultimately, to protection. If zoos were closed to the public, where would the next generation of zookeepers, zoologists and naturalist's come from? By watching insects on the windowledge?