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Zoo has important role in new normal

Monday, July 6th, 2020
A child carried by the mother feeds the giraffe in an enclosure at the Singapore Zoo in Singapore on its first day of reopening to the public after the attraction was temporarily closed due to concerns about the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. -AFP picA child carried by the mother feeds the giraffe in an enclosure at the Singapore Zoo in Singapore on its first day of reopening to the public after the attraction was temporarily closed due to concerns about the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. -AFP pic

SHOULD zoos around the globe close their doors? Many experts, however, still believe that we need zoos for wildlife conservation as many species are in danger of extinction.

You might not know that 85 per cent of the animals in Zoo Negara are endangered species and 15 per cent are heading towards extinction.

Hence, similar to other zoos, Zoo Negara undergo many conservation breeding programmes to help preserve and protect the wildlife.

The zoo also plays a significant role in educating and creating awareness about different species that exist on the earth, as well as bridging the connection between humans and animals.

Thus, it is vital for zoos to study and understand how species interact within their ecosystems, as well as how they are affected by environmental and human influences – so, with this understanding, the management will know how to provide suitable atmospheres for the animals.

For instance, scientists at Queen’s Animal Behaviour Centre revealed that classical music and scents such as lavender in dog shelters calm them. Plus, shielding zoo-housed gorillas from visitors with camouflage netting over the viewing windows would prevent great apes from becoming agitated.

One thing for sure, there is no “one size fits all” welfare model, as there’s numerous ranges of animals’ biological requirements and needs.

All necessary measures should also be taken to ensure the animals are not abused. Rather than in cages, they are kept in an open enclosure that allows them to move freely, with enough barriers between them and humans.

As for the zookeepers, they are trained to be aware of and avoid fear-evoking behaviours. Research shows that when zookeepers spent extra time mingling in positive interactions with chimpanzees like playing, grooming, feeding treats, and chatting, the animals behaved better, exhibited fewer abnormal behaviours and were less reactive.

Visitors play a significant role too by not disturbing the animals by making excessive noise levels or throwing food or other objects into their enclosures to get their attention. This will stress them out and cause a negative impact on their behaviour.

The current pandemic has also dramatically impacted zoo animals. Zoologists point out, intelligent and social animals, including gorillas, otters and meerkats are missing the attention of humans.

Zoo animals are accustomed to routines and schedules like hanging out with human visitors as well as continually seeing the crowds who like to call out their names. With the sudden absence of human visitors, some of the animals suffer from boredom and loneliness.

According to Muhamad Akramin from the Public Relations and Marketing Department of Zoo Negara Malaysia, some of the zoo staff remarked that their captives appear to notice this new silence. For that reason, zoo employees are making efforts, like talking or visiting the animals more frequently.

Paul Rose, a lecturer in animal behaviour at the University of Exeter, said that without human visitors, some animals show lack of stimulation.

“Some animals such as primates and parrots, get a lot of enrichment from viewing and engaging with visitors. It is beneficial to the animal’s well-being and quality of life. If this stimulation is not there, then the animals lack the enrichment,” he said.

While in Giza Zoo, Egypt, zoo management have established a programme that focuses on entertaining their animals, focusing on proper nutrition to keep animals healthy, providing them with their favourite food, and the necessary medical care.

However, some animals seemed to enjoy their quiet moment. In Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, Ying Ying, one of the resident pandas, may be pregnant after 10 years of natural mating attempts.

Michael Boos, executive director at Ocean Park, said: “Today’s successful natural matching process is highly thrilling for us all, because the probability of conception by natural matching is higher.”

Zoologists conclude that changes in the usual routines of zoo animals affect different species in different ways.

All in all, though, it will be some time before Malaysia will truly accept foreign tourists after their reopening, our local zoo now needs local visitors more than ever.

Do remember that animals in zoos are undergoing their post-lockdown fuzz too, so they need time to adapt, just like humans. Keepers and other zoo staff will always be on hand to guide, help enforce social distancing and show us how to act with the animals appropriately.

BNurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi.

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