In the last half century a global zoo community has been formed that tries to support nature and biodiversity protection through in-situ and ex-situ breeding projects. Furthermore, modern zoos try to connect their visitors  with nature and animals, and increase the public’s ecological awareness through educational messages.

Despite these developments, the question remains what the ‘raison d être’ of the modern zoo should be? With increasing focus on international biodiversity issues, Western zoos try to find a role in the protection of (endangered) species, directly or indirectly through their educational programs. But there is little or no evidence that zoos play an essential role in the conservation of species and their educational potential is mainly restricted to a select group of people.

It remains difficult. Zoos are commercial enterprises, seeking to entertain a demanding public. At the same time they have to spend time and money for conservation purposes . Furthermore, visitors like to see the animals close-up, but the animal – visitor interactions are not always optimal for the welfare of the animals.

How can zoos better combine the protection of species while ensuring the quality of life of individual animals? The dilemma zoos face today is serious and we need to think urgently how to transform zoos over he next 20-30 years into ‘sustainable zoos’ – also from the animals’ perspective.


(This research is done together with Floortje Mennen, Carijn Beumer and others)

Zie ook Opinie pagina Trouw, 1 april (in Dutch)