Despite their popularity and place in our tourism history, in recent years zoos have undergone considerable change in both their structure and function. Whilst remaining attractive places to visit, zoos now seek a new image – one that emphasizes their role in conservation and public education. However, the relationship between the modern zoo and its visitors remains variable, and the visitors’ perceptions are still coloured by the history of zoos. This quandary not only makes life difficult for zoos, but also means that our relationship with them is often confused and contradictory - they remain popular places for tourism and education, yet are still criticised as being old fashioned and out-moded.
The primary attraction of zoos is, of course, their animals. However, changes in public expectations and the zoo’s own objectives mean that today there is far more scrutiny of the way in which their animals are being managed and utilised. This has involved consideration of the ethics of zoos, and in particular of the welfare of their captive animals. In this, the first of two papers on zoo animal welfare, we will look briefly at the ethics of zoos, at the evolution of the zoo welfare debate, and at the development of zoo exhibits.