AAAS symposium—Wildlife in captivity: Ethics and zoos


AAAS symposium—Wildlife in captivity: Ethics and zoos

Are zoos ethical? This specialist reasons that today's zoos do far more than entertain. They play a key role in wildlife education and research and in the preservation of the world's endangered species.
Aug 01, 2006

R. Eric Miller, DVM, DACZM
Should zoos exist? And if yes, for what purpose? The traditional mission of zoos has been to provide family entertainment. But contemporary zoos, particularly the 210 accredited members of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), provide education and research not only on behalf of captive animals but also on behalf of animals in the wild. Ethical discourse about the role of zoos should recognize that modern zoos are primarily animal welfare organizations seeking to provide high-quality animal management, behavioral enrichment, and veterinary care to the species housed in their facilities.

Furthermore, zoos engage in field conservation programs to alleviate the current crisis of species endangerment. For example, many zoos have become ex situ breeding centers for amphibian species doomed by the chytrid fungus. Other field conservation programs link breeding programs for animals in zoos to conservation of their wild counterparts. For example, the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute ( allocates $1.2 million a year for conservation of wild animal species and their habitats. With a potential 140 million visits to AZA-accredited institutions every year, these zoos will increasingly take advantage of their unique position to use the wonders of the natural kingdom to engage the public in conservation messages and link them to conservation action.


1. Bonner JP. Sailing with Noah: stories from the world of zoos. Columbia, Mo: University of Missouri Press, 2006.

2. Norton BG, Hutchins M, Stevens EF, et al, eds. Ethics on the ark: zoos, animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 1995.

R. Eric Miller, DVM, DACZM
Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute
One Government Drive
St. Louis, MO 63110