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Zoo should upgrade to petting zoo

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The benefits of human interactions with animals are widely known, both the physical and mental. The mere presence of a pet has been found to lower blood pressure and increase endorphins. Dogs and cats brought on visits to nursing homes can relieve depression. Pet owners recover more quickly from surgery than those without pets.

However, wild animal’s interactions with humans are quite different. Wild animals, even those born in captivity, are stressed by the presence of people. This is nature, the way the creator designed it to be. And despite our greatest investments in attempting to recreate the wild environment in our zoos, we have never been successful.

Laura Smith writing for Slate Magazine found that New York’s Central Park Zoo has built a multi-million dollar exhibit for Gus the polar bear, something that Roswell could never afford. However, even with such luxury accommodations, she reports that Gus is forced to live in an enclosure that is 0.00009 percent of the size his range would have been in his natural habitat. “It’s impossible to replicate even a slim fraction of the kind of life polar bears have in the wild,” Smith writes. A study in the Journal of Science found that zoo elephants’ lifespans were less than half that of protected wild populations found in Africa and Asia.

A Sunday afternoon trip to the zoo is an American tradition. It brings families together in a relaxed, interactive and educational environment. So here lies the conundrum. How do we maintain this time-honored recreational experience and at the same time respect the quality of life of other living creatures? Many will argue that we should construct expensive new naturalistic enclosures. But as I argue this is not fiscally or physically possible.

I believe the best solution is to upgrade the Roswell Zoo to be a first-rate petting zoo where children of all ages can interact with animals that thrive in our presence, goats, miniature horses, donkeys, llamas, pigs, rabbits, camels, etc. These domesticated animals are not like wild animals and even enjoy our company. People can pet and groom and physically interact with the animals, instead of trying to catch an occasional glimpse of a wild animal cowering in the corner of a cage. Treats could be purchased for the children to feed the animals with the side benefit of offsetting operating cost.

And petting zoos are not just for kids. It would be a family experience. You never outgrow the cute factor of a baby goat. This solution may solve both the cruelty issues and the fiscal issues of upgrading exhibits and at the same time be educational of the heritage of our region.

Donald Daugherty
Roswell