Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it so difficult to see wild animals in their natural environment?

In their natural environments, wild animals are faced with the daily challenges of survival. Survival depends on finding adequate food, water, and appropriate shelter, with the ultimate goal of passing genetic information to the next generation. For the most part, success and survival in the natural environment is dependent on an animals ability to quietly fulfill their daily requirements, without calling any additional attention to themselves.

Through evolution and intelligence, wild animals have developed many unique methods of remaining elusive, from the variety of species-specific camouflage, to the most intricate and inaccessible nest sites. Wild animals prefer to see and be aware of their surroundings, but not to be seen. For this reason, only a small percentage of wild animals can be observed in their natural environment.

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Why visit a zoo?

For all the reasons mentioned above, wild animals are so skilled at remaining elusive that they are rarely seen and observed in their natural environment. To observe even the smallest percentage of the millions of different species in their natural environment, it would take years of travel, a lot of funds, a high degree of knowledge about the specific habits of each of the various species, and a great deal of luck.

Although ecotourism opportunities exist in areas of great diversity, it is important to remember that these are very fragile ecosystems. Too much intrusion from humans could have unforeseen consequences to populations of wild species. Luckily, there are 2200 zoological facilities located throughout the United States.

Collectively, these zoos house thousands of species, visible in artificial environments, many of which would never be seen in the wild. Zoos are areas where land is given back to wild animals, with the purpose of preservation of species. Choosing to observe animals in this setting -- rather than attempting to see them in the wild -- helps to relieve some of the pressure on the environment from ecotourism. Rather than just catching a glimpse of a species in the natural environment, a zoo provides visitors with the unique opportunity to observe these animals for longer periods of time while at the same time learning facts about the species.

Most importantly, a zoo is a great place to have lots of fun observing wild animals and admiring their intelligence.

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Where do we acquire wild animals?

Across the United States, from small towns to big cities, the 2200 zoos display over 500,000 wild animals. While each zoo will have its own established breeding program, animals that are born or hatched will often need to be transferred to other facilities for a variety of different reasons: young animals are needed to replace older non-breeding animals, new exhibits are built, social structures need additional members or changes made.

With all the movement of animals between zoological facilities, it is essential to closely monitor the history of each specimen, to avoid inbreeding and to maximize the gene pool.

Every so often, new specimen will be needed to maintain the genetic diversity of a population. In this case, animals must be brought in directly from the wild, which helps ensure the longevity of the zoo populations by continuing to diversify genetic material. Due to complicated regulations monitoring health and international laws, these newm genetically valuable animals arrive in zoos only on occasion.

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How important is the size of an animal exhibit?

The Earth is limited in the number of acres available for development. With humans already occupying so much, it is important to maximize what can be done with any land given back to animals for the preservation of species.

In the natural environment, territory sizes of the thousands of different species vary from 1 square foot to several square miles. The size of the territory is dependent on the amount of space required to fulfill an animal’s requirements for survival. Some species hibernate, while others migrate, all due to food availability, climate changes, or reproductive needs, three vital facts of life and survival.

There is a delicate balance between obtaining nutrition and burning it as energy; in nature nothing is wasted. To maintain animals in artificial environments, zoo personnel must provide daily nutrition, usually in some sort of food dish. However, the instinct still remains to conserve energy for fulfilling the basic requirements of life. Therefore, you will not see animals using extra space unless it offers some benefit to their survival.

Animals do not move around for their own enjoyment; everything they do is related to survival. Even young animals, who often engage in behaviors that look like play are really practicing, building stability and stamina, and learning the complex behaviors of their species. For this reason, here at the zoo we work to simulate the lengthy foraging behaviors used over larger territories in the wild by providing daily nutrition in complicated and compact foraging devices, which minimizes the space required to fulfill their mental and physical requirements.

During your visit, you will notice the animals spending most of their time foraging from these units, or resting near the site of the food, much like an animal in the wild staying in close proximity of a food source. Rather than focusing on the size of the exhibit, it is more important to maximize what the area is able to offer in terms of mental and physical enrichment, at the same time giving the land we have available to the greatest diversity of animals possible.

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Should I feed wild animals in my backyard?

Wild animals have existed for tens of thousands of years using their intelligence to locate nutrition. As part of the food chain, each animal plays an important role in ecology. Oftentimes, when offered food in an area of human development, opportunistic animals will take advantage of an easy meal, going against their normal instinct to remain elusive. If nothing negative happens the first time they try it, they will hesitate less the next time, until it becomes a routine.

Food is a powerful motivator for animals: the more repetitively they are encouraged with food to come close to human development, the more they will be conditioned to lose their fear of humans. Once this happens, these animals can quickly become “nuisance” animals. Inevitably, the victim in these situations is the animal, who is then forced to be removed before it can cause injury or damage to human property.

Using the United States as an example, there are certain dangerous carnivores such as bears, wolves, and mountain lions that must be respected and stayed away from at all times. The consequences of conditioning these animals to come close to human areas have proven to be deadly, for the animals, the humans who feed them, or both. Some large members of the deer family, such as moose and white-tail deer can be very dangerous to humans when protecting their offspring or during breeding season.

Nowadays, there are more opportunities than ever before for wild animals to find a food source out of something humans discard as waste. Unknowingly, our leftovers become an easy meal for omnivores such as raccoons, skunks, and opossums. These animals carry diseases that can cross over into human populations. Even something as seemingly harmless as a squirrel can wreak havoc on your personal property if fed repeatedly in your yard.

Human interaction with wild animals never has positive consequences. While it may seem like a novel idea to have a congregation of wild animals feeding in your back yard, it is best for the animals to continue to do their part to exist unassisted in the food chain for ecology to survive.

If you choose to install a bird feeder in your back yard, it is important to remember to place it in the safest location possible, keeping in mind that where there are prey animals, there will soon be predators. Birds of prey, such as hawks, and domestic cats will learn in a short amount of time where and when the smorgasboard of tasty song birds appears on a regular basis. To prevent these song birds from getting injured or becoming an easy meal, here are some helpful hints:

  • Avoid placing birdfeeders close to windows. The transparent glass may not be visible to birds in their excitement over a feeding from the feeder.
  • Placement under trees and branches complicates an aerial approach from predatory birds.
  • Using thin, non-climbable poles and trees with thin trunks and small branches will prevent cats from climbing. Also keep in mind the impressive height to which a cat is able to jump.

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Should I have a wild animal as a pet?

About 12,000-30,000 years ago, humans around the globe began to domesticate wild animals for the purposes of food, work, and pets. Back then, before the invention of modern transportation and machinery, it was about convenience and practicality. Selectively breeding the many domestic breeds for our personal needs provided much needed relief to diminishing populations of wild species.

During your visit to the zoo, you may discover many fascinating species and wonder about having one as a pet in your home. If you were to inquire with one of our staff members about doing so, you would quickly find out just how complicated the daily animal welfare of each species is.

Many species -- especially primates -- belong in complicated social structures and require specialized daily nutrition to maintain their overall health; this is very expensive. Providing proper mental stimulation is the most challenging aspect of maintaining wild animals, many of which can live 20-60 years. Many behaviors of wild animals change with age and maturity, and are always unpredictable with every different person.

The costly demands of providing animal welfare are not the only challenges you will face. Protecting your furniture and household belongings from destructive hands and mouths, stocking up on air freshener for animals with what could politely be called a distinctive odor, buying ear plugs for the noise that can fill every waking moment of every day, finding a veterinarian experienced in providing the necessary specialized care, and finding a sitter for the times when you are away only begins to scrape the surface as to how difficult and time-consuming it is to keep a wild animal in a household.

Once you have a wild animal as a pet, it is very difficult to change your mind. Zoos are unable to take them in, as often they are too altered by humans to fit into a social structure. Much thought should be given before acquiring such a costly, complicated, and long-living creature as a pet. Take it from any of our caretakers for whom it is a full time occupation: going home to a clean, quiet, peaceful home at the end of a hard days work is something sacred. Perhaps it is for the best for everyone to leave the welfare of wild animals to the trained professionals.

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What should I do if my exotic pet escapes?

In this country, there are hundreds of thousands of insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals kept as pets. Because of their intelligence and often due to human error, many of them will escape. Some will be unable to survive due to improper climate or lack of food.

However, many of the southern states have natural environments where these animals are able to survive and actually thrive. This creates an enormous problem for the indigenous wildlife of this area. Forced to compete with these introduced species for nutrition and hiding places, the indigenous wildlife populations are made vulnerable by this disruption in their ecosystem.

Even if these escaped animals do not reproduce, their requirements for nutrition and resources are enough to throw the entire food chain of an area off balance. This applies to all orders of animals kept as pets, but mammals present an even greater problem.

When raised either by or around people, mammals especially lose most of their natural fear and elusive behaviors towards humans. This makes them highly unpredictable and dangerous during attempts at capture, or even if encountered outdoors. During the capture process, they are prone to injury or to injuring their human captors.

With all of these factors to consider, it is very important to remember if an escape does occur, the local authorities should be contacted immediately to aide in catching the animal safely so it does not become a public safety hazard or have a negative impact on local ecology.

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What about hunting?

Since early man, hunting wild animals has been critical to the survival and evolution of humans. Today, every country has biologists and law enforcement who work intensely monitoring wildlife populations and protecting local wildlife. Annual evaluation of populations determine how many animals should be harvested to maintain population numbers and avoid overpopulation, and at which time of year they should be harvested, to avoid disrupting the natural breeding cycles.

Currently, with human populations at 7 billion and growing, many fragile ecosystems are in peril. Enormous amounts of funds are required to protect these environments. Through the sale of hunting licenses alone, billions of dollars are generated to finance many very important environmental projects. The people who contribute by legally harvesting the various species are doing so voluntarily, saving millions of dollars from annual budgets that are already shrinking.

Now more than ever, harvesting legally acquired game species is a very valuable method of managing a natural renewable resource for future generations to enjoy.

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Where do the animals go for the winter?

Being located in the Northeast, several huge winter arrangements provide controlled environments to all tropical animals. North American species are genetically coded to prepare with extra nutrition, long guard hairs, and fat reserves. African hoofstock prepare themselves in a similar way for winter, and here at the zoo are provided with an option to heated buildings for shelter. Large feline species continue their usual routine and spend the day outdoors, coming inside at night to rest in dry, bedded quarters. On a year-round basis, full time staff members prepare complex diets and plenty of mental stimuli for the wild animals, through rain, sleet, and snow, weekends and holidays included.

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