The new CEO of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has said that zoos and aquariums need to be more vocal about the conservation work they do, saying that many feel “guilty” over some of the perceptions relating to animals in captivity.
With the world’s zoos and aquariums able to reach an estimated 700 million people worldwide every year, they offer an unparalleled platform to raise awareness over conservation and species preservation.
Appointed WAZA chair in March, Doug Cress wants to raise the profile of both zoos and aquariums, letting the world know what they do and why they do it.
“Part of the problem is zoos and aquariums still feel guilty,” said Cress, speaking to Attractions Management
. “They feel guilty about the 20th century, carrying around this tradition of iron bars and imprisonment and punishment. In fact if you look at the record, they are the ones who have saved species from extinction and who reintroduced species to the wild.”
Zoos and aquariums find themselves under public scrutiny often, with the killing of Harambe the gorilla a recent example of this. Cress acknowledged that these incidents shouldn’t happen, but that they were in the minority across a body of good work carried out by zoos and aquariums.
“The animal welfare issue is always one that trips us up, because often it’s a cheap win,” he said.
“It’s easier to get everybody angry when a keeper hits an elephant and the video goes viral. But does that really reflect the industry? Of course not.
“My job is to accentuate the positives, so I will be putting a real focus on welfare. Of course, when things like that happen, we don’t want to overlook them. We want to pool our resources and focus on making sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We also want to make sure that when we have a bad day or a video goes viral or an accident happens, we don’t let the entire industry be pulled down. Those incidents are regrettable. They happen, but they don’t reflect the industry every single day. Harambe was not shot because zoos exist.
“Anticipate where those problems might come up but also having an overwhelming number of examples of the good work that zoos and aquariums do is important. That’s going to be a real focus.” To hear more from Doug Cress, the latest edition of Attractions Management is available now.