Zoological Parks in the west have experienced a transformation since the menageries of Victorian times. Modern Zoos have evolved from entertainment venues to educational facilities with a focus on ecological responsibility, conservation, animal preservation and welfare. Zoo animals live in enclosures that attempt to replicate their natural habitats. Larger zoos have the funds to provide open enclosures where animals are kept in larger areas by high fences or moats so they have more freedom of movement. The vast majority of Zoo residents these days are either born in zoos, donated pets or seized from inappropriate living conditions. When animals are removed from their environment, it is when the species is facing extinction like the California Condor or Red Wolves. As breeding programs increase numbers, animals are released to repopulate in the wild.
Zoo regulation by state and federal agencies has aided this effort. In the U.S. zoos and wildlife parks are overseen by the Department of Agriculture. Professional zookeeping societies such as the American Association of Zookeepers and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have also played a huge role in the advancement of conservation and quality animal care. Many of the associations offer accreditation for larger zoos and sponsor outreach programs for zoos that need help to improve the quality of resident animal life.
Many zoos are involved with wildlife or exotic animal rescue, providing homes to animals that were purchased by private citizens (who then discovered that monkeys and big cats don't make great pets) or native animals found in adverse conditions.
Zoos educate, raise money for conservation, develop tracking technology for wild populations, conduct research, advance veterinary medicine, and advance animal handling techniques. Zoos can provide valuable and practical information that may be difficult or impossible to gather in the wild. And they manage to do all of this and provide visitors with the unique experience of observing animals seen only in books. That kind of contact can foster a lifelong love and respect for species of all kinds. This world can use all the animal lovers it can get.
EFA recognizes the efforts of zoos who are working towards species and habitat preservation, but in contrast to the good that a zoo focused on enriched environments and individual animal welfare can do, there is still an opposite extreme. "Roadside zoos" generally exist solely for commercial purposes. They are unregulated and notorious for neglect and cruelty. If you should come across such a situation, please act as you would any time you suspect mistreatment: contact your state wildlife authorities or other animal welfare group. The local police or sheriff's department should be able to tell you who to call.