Tonawanda News

Features

December 2, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Robots better than the real-deal in zoos?

Tonawanda News — In April 2010 the well-known primatologist Jane Goodall visited Canisius College. In 1960, she pioneered research on chimpanzee behavior in Tanzania and it was an honor to hear her talk. She thought back on her five decades of research and what it means for the future of animals in the wild and in captivity. In her speech she said she did not like zoos, but understood that there are not many alternatives for the wild animals since poaching, habitat loss and climate change were affecting every facet of their lives.

In February 2012 Canisus College hosted a symposium entitled “The Future of Zoos.” Animal behavior experts, conservationists, zoo directors and international zoo architects were invited to share not only what they think will be, but also to articulate what should be the future of zoos. Presentations were placed into three major topics: anticipating the nature of future zoo visitors, the role of zoos in conservation and species selection in future zoos. 

A representative from the Wildlife Conservation Society argued with the diminished state of wildlife, zoos should be responding differently. Other presenters urged zoos to change the educational role that they play. The most emotionally evocating talks were based around what animals would be in zoos 50 and 100 years from now.

Some thought highly intelligent animals like elephants, great apes and killer whales should never be in zoological intuitions. Some thought that cloning extinct animals such as saber tooth tigers and woolly mammoths, and having them alive and in zoos would be the future. Dr. Michael Noonan, an animal behavior professor at Canisus College, spoke about the role of robotics in zoos. Could you imagine going to a zoo and just like Disney or Universal Studies seeing animatronic animals instead of the real thing?

This brings me to one of the many essays in the newly published book, “Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation,” by Marc Bekoff. The book was published three weeks ago and includes many of his 400 essays, which present research about animal cognition as well as his own personal views of what each of us can do to improve the lives of animals.

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