Gorilla Colo, the first of its kind to be born in captivity, died last week at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio. Kolo died in his sleep at the age of 60, more than twenty years of gorilla life in the wild. Reasons for this longevity include efforts by zoos like Columbus to improve the health of their animals (for example, taking care of their teeth and vaccinating them) and trying to reduce stress due to contact with humans. Colo’s positive case was in stark contrast to that of Haramb, who was killed last May after a three-year-old boy accidentally fell into a gorilla’s cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. The decision by zoo managers to kill the animal, which posed a death threat to the baby, rekindled controversy over the presence of gorilla-like animals at the zoo.
We are accustomed to thinking of zoos as places where animals are destined to suffer, and in reality there are still places where animals are cruelly tortured or forced to sleep, such as deprivation of food, but they are now a minority without AZA certification. , One that guarantees quality. Zoos and aquariums have long taken care of animals that reduce human intervention or try to make it less traumatic, for example by teaching lions not to be afraid of needles or gorillas to take care of themselves independently.
New methods also require zoo operators to teach animals to behave as closely as they can in nature: humans reproduce it in front of animals, who learn by imitating it. For the care of puppies, for example, Columbus Zoo staff imitate what species of females do in nature: they move around to carry the puppies on their backs, reproducing cries of rebuke when someone does. Something went wrong and they delivered a lot of food to their breasts to feed them. By observing these attitudes, other gorillas learn to copy and take care of the children as if they were adoptive mothers. Contact with humans gradually diminishes even when it comes to feeding animals: workers continue to distribute it, but increasingly keep it away from puppies who thus learn to get it.
Captive animals need to be vaccinated but, like humans, many of them are afraid of needles and a long but effective process has been developed that teaches lions not to be afraid of them. The creature is made to approach operators with the sound of a call: the first few times it responds to a call, it gets a reward in the food, then it is shown a needle, first thin then gradually growing. This process can take weeks or months, and a single injection corresponds to a hundred needles. Thus, within a year the lion received all the necessary vaccines without enduring the trauma of fear.
Columbus Zoo also has a large area called Savannah, where about ten animals of African descent coexist. When the weather is bad, or when someone needs a veterinary check-up, the animals return home with a sound prompt that resembles a food reward. The call varies depending on the species: the lion responds to the sound of a megaphone, the giraffe responds to the sound of a bell, and the wildbist, which usually returns at the end, is attracted by a clapping.
In general, zoos are more or less places where animals are locked up for exploitation and shown to the public, and more research sites, often devoted to the protection of endangered species. In fact, many zoos adhere to programs for the breeding of endangered species and take the initiative to reintroduce some specimens born and raised in captivity in the wild. In the United States in particular, many adhere to the Species Survival Plan (SSP), which affects 181 different species and helps keep black-footed ferrets, California condors, and red wolves from extinction. In Europe, the European Program for Endangered Species (EEP) provides integrated breeding of endangered species at zoos aimed at strengthening it by reintroducing new specimens into the wild.
Some species only survive in captivity, others are present in nature because they have been reintroduced from the zoo; Keeping some specimens in captivity guarantees the possibility of saving a species if all wild specimens become extinct. For some animals, life at the zoo is easier than nature: it is true that they are limited in their movements, but they are also protected from predators and parasites, shelter from drought and famine, and cure from diseases.
Zoos also play an educational and awareness-raising role, as they make children and adults more aware of animals and their needs more subtly than any magazine or documentary, as well as teach respect for the environment. Many raise funds for projects to protect animals and their environment and often collaborate with each other by exchanging good practices and educating operators. At zoos, animal research programs are also increasingly frequent: it is essential to study their behavior for the preservation and conservation of specimens and ecosystems in nature.