The future of zoos

Minnesota Zoo dolphins
Semo, one of the Minnesota Zoo's Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, poses for spectators during a training session Monday, June 18, 2012 at the zoo in Apple Valley. The Minnesota Zoo announced that it will ends its dolphin program this fall.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The Lake Superior Zoo will reopen Friday, a little more than three weeks after flood waters ripped through the zoo, killing 11 animals and raising questions about the zoo's security and preparedness.

In the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Zoo announced in the spring that it would no longer house dolphins after a death this year bringing their total up to six dolphin deaths in as many years.

The recent news out of Minnesota zoos made us think about the issues surrounding animals in captivity. Is it ethical? And what is the purpose of zoos today?

Jeffrey Hyson, assistant professor of history at Saint Joseph's University, joined The Daily Circuit Thursday to talk about how zoos have changed over time.

"What people have expected to do and see at zoos since they first emerged in the late 18th and 19th centuries is to see exotic animals doing interesting things," he told NPR. "And as much as exhibit design has changed over the years, as much as you've seen shifts in education programs, in conservation activities, fundamentally, zoo-goers are there to see the animals, to see them active, to see them looking back."

Jordan Schaul, director of conservation and science at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, will also joined the discussion.

Duluth Zoo animals
Feisty, one of two harbor seals transferred from the Lake Superior Zoo to Como Zoo due to flooding in Duluth, is on display Thursday, June 21, 2012 in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"I hope zoo professionals will use their creative faculties to develop more innovative exhibits, strengthen their conservation programs, and further enhance the animal welfare interests of their collection animals," he said. "I urge zoo patrons to continue to visit their local zoological facilities. Your support can empower these living institutions and will help foster their evolution as we move toward the next century."

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