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Opinion Piece: Praising Zoo Keepers on ICZ’s International Zoo Keeper Day

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 4.41.36 PMDespite increasing public scrutiny, which is in part an artifact of social media influences, zoological parks and zoo professionals continue to navigate through complex and sensitive issues regarding the ethics of keeping wild animals with unabated force. They dodge the frequent, unrelenting, and typically unfounded criticism from people harboring misplaced compassion every day.

But highly trained personnel in zoos and aquariums remain committed to providing optimal health and husbandry services to the resident animal ambassadors in their care. They do this on a global scale under the auspices of several international zoo associations. In addition, the staff at these living natural history laboratories remain at the forefront of wildlife conservation efforts by safeguarding imperiled species. Zoos and related facilities also play a significant role as leaders, if not pioneers of the informal science education movement.  In fact, they are a premier source of informal science education, particularly in an economic climate that precludes extensive ecotourism travel for most people.

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Dr. Jordan Schaul with naturalist/zoo keeper at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

And it is the modern zoo keeper who is not only an animal care specialist, but an integral player in conservation education programming. Zoo keepers are reponsible for imparting information about vanishing wildlife to the populous and serve as a conduit between the zoo and the zoo patron.  They are staunch environmentalists and compassionate wildlife welfare advocates.

Today’s zoo keepers often hold advanced degrees in animal science, zoology or comparative psychology. They participate in research programs behind-the-scenes in addition to providing exemplary care for captive wildlife.  They also spend great amounts of time and effort to enhance the psychological welfare of animals in their care through the implementation of intensive behavior management and conditioning programs.

Historically, zoo keeper’s have shared intimate insight into the storied lives of animal ambassadors at zoos and aquariums around the world.  They can tells us so much about the human-animal bond in an authentic and inspiring way that is difficult to capture through conventional media.

Few people visit zoos asking to meet the zoo director, but almost everyone wants to meet the zoo keeper. It is because the zoo keeper can share such authentic, fascinating and personal experiences in a truly unprecedented way. We need to praise these professionals for their versality and compassion and their dedication to nature stewardship. Today, at least, we celebrate them and all they do.

The International Congress of Zoo Keepers designated October 4th as International Zoo Keeper Day citing the following declaration:

 

“Many species are facing extinction, and their ecosystems and habitats are under tremendous pressure from diverse forces, both natural and man-made.

This special day will be observed annually on October 4, in recognition of the valuable contribution zookeepers make to the care and conservation of exotic animals.

Stewardship is the last hope for many endangered species. The professionals who devote their lives to saving species by way of conservation and breeding programs, education outreach, and research work tirelessly to save these animals.

This celebration shall include all who make it their life´s work to care for animals, whether they are involved with zoos, sanctuaries, aquariums, rescue centers, parks or reserves. All who work to improve and save the lives of animals shall be commemorated on this day.

Each October 4, the ICZ, via International Zookeeper Day, will engage in programs, activities, and ceremonies which encourage education and public awareness of the important role of keepers in wildlife conservation.” – http://sdaazk.com/2015-events-fundraisers/international-zoo-keepers-day-october-4/

Dr. Jordan Schaul
Dr. Jordan Schaul is an American zoologist, conservationist, journalist and animal trainer from Shaker Heights, Ohio.- Wikipedia

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