The New York Times ran a big article yesterday about the challenges of modern zookeeping featuring, as its prime example, the Saint Louis Zoo. Instead of merely keeping animals for display, zoos today are expected to act as agents of conservation for animals whose numbers are dwindling in the wild.
The problem is, zoos also have to draw in visitors if they're going to make any money. Hence the decision of the Saint Louis Zoo to spend $40 million on refurbishing its sea lion habitat instead of using the money to, say, revive the population of some rare insect -- sea lions are doing just fine out in nature, but they're one of the zoo's most popular attractions.
The zoo also plans to drop another $20 million, or 40 percent of its budget, on a new polar bear habitat. This despite the fact that a polar bear hasn't lived at the zoo since 2009.
So, KMOX asked zoo president Jeffrey Bonner, who's going to live there?
Why, polar bears, of course!
Bonner pointed out that it will take five years to build the new polar bear habitat, which is sufficient time to acquire some more bears. Live ones. Not animatronic. And despite new sanctions against removing them from the wild.
"I think it's a great idea to do the polar bear exhibit. I think that there's a marvelous educational opportunity," he said. "There's the ability to use the polar bears, the icon species that says we need to take better care of our planet, and this is what happens when we don't."
Yeah, you get a zoo with animatronic polar bears.
There's lots more in the Times article about how the zoo tries to balance its conservationist mission with its need to please large crowds and how this leads to some tough decisions. It's definitely worth a read.