Zenfolio | Jack Burton Photography | Experience and thoughts from the zoo/aquarium

Experience and thoughts from the zoo/aquarium

April 13, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

As part of my final project at University, I had the necessary incentive to visit a Zoo, which I haven’t done for years as my opinions on them have turned controversial.


I needed photographs of animal representatives from the Eukaryotic domain of the tree of life, which will form part of my Tree of Life project. My project will be formed of a mosaic of photos in correlation with the theory of evolution and creation (but plenty more detail on my final project later!).


The eukaryotes are a group of cellular lifeforms that are distinguished from the other domains (Arachaea and Bacteria) by a number of differences at the cellular level. Essentially, though, they include most lifeforms we’re very familiar with, like animals and plants.


To get the representative images from this group, I visited both Newquay Zoo and Plymouth Aquarium. Here are some of the images I took:




After visiting both the zoo and aquarium, I thought I’d share some thoughts and fresh perspectives from my recent experiences…


I initially thought visiting an environment of animal captivity would be uncomforting for myself - and to a substantial degree it was - but I do not regret it as the experience also kindled a more informed emotional understanding.


There’s huge controversy around the ethics behind zoos and aquariums: I’d like to say I understand the topic better now visiting both recently. One important factor that struck me was the strong emotion of awe…seeing the incredible, complex and dreamlike beauty of these animals that exist on our planet. It doesn’t surprise me that it enthuses excitement for families to go and visit a zoo, and I believe it probably kindles an interest in the animal kingdom and nature.

When wandering around, I also noticed there was environmental information: scientific statistics explicitly describing the devastation that humans reek on the natural world, causing declines in species population, the perpetual devastation of habitats, from coral bleaching and deforestation to the melting of the arctic ice caps. 


If you look at the websites of both institutions, they elucidate exactly how they contribute to conservation. Examples include education, breeding programs, funding charities, grant opportunities and research projects.


However, can we still claim such institutions to be ethical?


Newquay Zoo, in particular, was a stomach-turning experience: the lack of space that the animals are given here…I can only describe it as worrying and unacceptable. If you are going to promote the importance of care and engagement for the environment and animals of the natural world through exhibits, then do so with ethical infrastructure. The size of the outside Lion cage was similar to the size of a squash court – a bit different to the vast plains of Africa. Also, groups of penguins in their double figures should not be sharing a pool which is visibly too small to share. Lemurs, primate’s endemic to Madagascar, were located on an island tree house (so small), surrounded by water; they had no terrestrial features at all to play around with… just a rope to a wooden platform and an indoor shelter.

Plymouth aquarium certainly impressed me with its engineering and infrastructure, generally speaking, but again some of the water tanks home to the marine life were just not ethical – far too small. Some animals just shouldn’t be in captivity - shark species which extend beyond 2 metres in length amongst them.

With all this conservation publicity spread around the walls through the exhibit, how much of it actually ccome into use? Is the experience of these institutes so profound that it changes the lives of individuals to become more environmentally conscious? After reading the effects of fish depletion because of our consumption, I visited the café/restaurant in the aquarium to find nearly everyone eating fish, and parents feeding fish to their children.


Do such institutions inspire kids into a life of conservation? Maybe for some. I remember visiting zoos as a child, but that isn’t why I took an interest in conservation: local wildlife around my village inspired me in this trajectory. Wouldn’t you say that getting in touch with your local environment is more critical considering the worrying environmental prospects of our country? Should we not emotionally invest in these areas where it is practically viable to make a significant difference?


Its clear that there is some good in zoos and aquariums, but fundamentally it seems to me that it is more so a business model, more interested in growth and money than its conservation input. There are over 10,000 zoos in America alone, and there are probably some notable success stories in some of these institutions, but is it substantial enough to actually make a difference? The whole idea of making conservation a business model seems to be futile, as money will always trump the intentions to preserve.


When I see the guides leading groups and informing the public, I understand there might be some good intention there, but you get all this information from documentaries and online. Like I said before, seeing them from a fresh perspective and in-front of you is without-a-doubt incredible. But is it justifiable?





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