Snow Leopard at the Zurich Zoo
© Tambako The Jaguar

Animal Travels: 6 Reasons Why the Zoo Is Not Just For Kids

Do you visit zoos and wildlife parks when you travel? If you’re a family traveler with kids, the answer’s probably yes. But otherwise you might not be putting animal attractions high on your list.

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I’m going to tell you why you need to reconsider! Zoos and wildlife parks are catering to all kinds of visitors these days and might turn out to be a highlight of your trip, for one or all of these reasons:

#1: Learn Something

Zoos in particular, and often other animal parks and wildlife areas too, are set up with one of their key goals being to be educational. Luckily, educational doesn’t mean we have to sit down and study a book. Instead there are staff at zoos being very careful about putting up exhibit signage and providing visitor experiences to help you learn something new about the animals and environment you’re visiting.

The best part is they tend to make sure you learn something in an interesting and engaging way. You often don’t realise you’ve done it until you start telling someone else about some interesting fact you heard about the habitat of the orangutan. Travel can be fun and rewarding when it exercises your brain a little and since the animal world is so closely related to ours, it’s likely you’ll learn something quite important to them, us, and our environment.

Polar Bear & Young Boy at Detroit Zoo
How YOU doin? © Dave Hogg

#2: Understand the Locals

Zoos and wildlife parks are an interesting kind of tourist attraction because they tend to attract both locals and out-of-towners. When I visit zoos in other cities I love feeling like I’m blending in with the kind of activities the locals tend to explore (since, in contrast, I have never met a Parisian while climbing the Eiffel Tower!).

You can also learn a great deal about a place by the effort that goes into their local zoo. You’ll know if you’re visiting a country that’s environmentally aware if the zoo has taken care to reproduce natural surroundings for their animals; you’ll know if a country’s still developing if the zoo doesn’t meet your standards.

I remember when I lived in Bratislava not long after the Iron Curtain came down and the local zoo fronted a highway – you could see giraffes from your car – but it needed lots of work.

You can also learn much about a country by finding out about not just the local people, but the local animals. Wildlife parks that focus on native wildlife provide a great insight into the influences in a country.

For example, here in Australia where we have a number of unique animals like kangaroos, koalas, wombats and so on, a typical Australian wildlife park will show you to what extent these animals are integrated into our daily lives (kangaroos aren’t hopping around our back yards in the city, for example) and explain the unique challenges facing both animals and people in the Australian environment, including harsh climate and large desert areas.

#3: Great Photo Opportunities

Landscapes and historic buildings are all very nice but a few cute animal shots will certainly add some fun and interest to your travel photo albums. They say you should never work with children or animals, but taking some good photos of animals at a zoo or wildlife park is not usually too hard, especially if the zoo has given some thought to making the enclosures camera-friendly. They will also help keep your friends interested when you show them your photos post-trip — animals are pretty much universally appealing!

Tiger Standing Up at Bronx Zoo
Tiger Standing Up at Bronx Zoo © Jeffrey

#4: Save the World

With causes related to endangered animals, threatened habitats and the environment in general, zoos and wildlife parks have plenty of potential to persuade you to help out with some of these problems.

Many zoos have programs where visitors can “adopt” an animal for a fee and the money raised goes to helping protect endangered species. Just remember that it’s not only the cute and cuddly species than need saving – consider donating to the scaly or scary looking creatures too!

#5: Inspire Future Travels

Here in Australia with my young son we are regular visitors to our local zoo. I’ve noticed that an offshoot of this is that the animals he particularly likes are helping to inspire us when choosing destinations for future trips. For example, his favourite enclosure to visit is that of the gibbons and that has put certain parts of Malaysia on our must-visit list.

With so many places to visit in the world and only one lifetime to see as many as we can, I’m always grateful for finding any reason to narrow down the possibilities for my next trip. Getting to know some interesting animals is as good a reason as any.

Some zoos even have habitats set up to resemble areas from other countries – like the Trail of the Elephants section of Melbourne Zoo which is built like a south-east Asian village – which does even more for inspiring future trips.

#6: Experience Some Simple Joy

It’s a harsh soul who can’t sit and watch some monkeys swinging from tree to tree or an elephant spraying himself with water and enjoy the spectacle. Watching animals is something we all loved to do as children — and have often not allowed ourselves to continue to enjoy as we’ve grown up. But enjoying animals is something adults are certainly allowed to do too, and it’s a way to both reconnect with nature and in some ways with our childhood and simply be happy.

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