You don’t have to go to Africa to see an elephant. You don’t have to go to the North Pole to see a polar bear. You can see elephants, bears, lions, crocodiles, hawks, and all kinds of other wild animals at a zoo.
Zoos are places where animals are kept so that you can learn about them. Zoos are also places where scientists study animals. Some zoos help preserve endangered animals.
WHAT DOES A ZOO LOOK LIKE?
Zoos once kept animals in cages. Today, they try to keep animals in larger, open places. The places look like the home of each animal that lives there. They have rocks and trees, bushes, and other plants that the animal likes. Some places might look like deserts or prairies or rain forests. Polar bears have ponds of ice-cold water to play in. Monkeys have trees they can climb. Pandas have lots of bamboo to eat.
The places where the animals live have fences and other borders. But the fences are hidden and hard to see. Part of the San Diego Wild Animal Park in California looks like a plain in Africa. It seems like the animals are free to go anywhere.
Many zoos have places with closed-in tops where hundreds of birds can fly around. Some zoos have places you can walk through to see butterflies sipping nectar (juice) from flowers.
WHO WORKS AT A ZOO?
A zoo needs many people to care for the animals. Zoologists are scientists who study animals. They learn about how the animals live. They learn what makes the animals happy.
Veterinarians are animal doctors. They take care of any sick zoo animals. They try to keep all the animals healthy.
Zookeepers take care of everything the animals need. They make sure the animals have plenty of food and water. They watch for any problems with the animals.
Zoos have other workers, too. They have guides who give tours and talk about the animals. They have cooks who work in zoo kitchens to make food for the animals. They even have people who build the homes for zoo animals to live in.
WHERE DO ZOOS GET ANIMALS?
In the past, most animals in zoos were captured wild animals. Today, zoos want their animals to breed (mate and have babies).
It is easy to get some animals to breed at a zoo. Lions living at zoos have many cubs. It is hard to get other animals to breed at a zoo. Cheetahs and giant pandas rarely have babies when they live in a zoo.
PROTECTING ENDANGERED ANIMALS
Zoologists try to save some endangered animals by breeding them at a zoo. Sometimes, they put animals born in a zoo back into the wild. They put the endangered Père David’s deer into an animal preserve in China. They put red wolves in places in North Carolina and Tennessee. These zoo-born animals now live completely in the wild.