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Houston Zoo Celebrates Biodiversity and Human-Animal Connectedness

By S. Mathur

The purpose and functions of zoos have been changing and evolving as humans try to understand and redefine our relationship to the natural world. Ryan Draper, Marketing Coordinator at the Houston Zoo, feels that "Zoos offer a glimpse into the amazing biodiversity of our world. In the past, the core purpose of zoos and aquariums was to operate as an attraction, mostly serving as a location to view exotic animals.

Many zoos and aquariums, like the Houston Zoo, have since expanded their focus to promoting and engaging in wildlife conservation efforts on a global scale. Conservation education initiatives are now commonplace among many institutions, encouraging the public support of practices that benefit wildlife both locally and abroad."

The goals of education and conservation have to be balanced against the feelings of unease at holding animals in captivity. Sometimes, zoos can offer the only safe habitat for animals on the verge of extinction due to poaching or habitat loss. They can also offer invaluable lessons to the public on the need for conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats. By giving people a chance to meet wild animals, even if only for a few fleeting moments, they open up a connection that remains submerged but not lost in the human consciousness.

Draper says, "Elephants, gorillas, and lions are favorite animals for lots of people. Unfortunately, these species (and many more) are in trouble due to threats such as habitat loss and poaching. The reality is that the average person will never be able to visit their favorite animals in the wild and witness the dangers that face them. Zoos and aquariums have both the opportunity and duty to inspire a passion for protecting wildlife. This is done through our education initiatives, our website, and most importantly, by coming face-to-face with the animals at the zoo who are ambassadors for their wild counterparts. At the end of each visit, we want our guests to leave the zoo with a renewed appreciation for wildlife and an understanding of what they can do to protect it."

For example, at the Houston Zoo, the highly-endangered gorillas are the most popular with visitors. Draper says that "Currently, our brand new gorilla habitat is our most popular area, which is a stunning addition and beautiful home to seven western lowland gorillas." The zoo has 6,000 resident animals belonging to more than 200 species. As anyone knows who has spent any time at all with zoo keepers, they are a specially compassionate and heroic breed.

Draper adds, "We take special pride in the outstanding care and enrichment that is given to our residents, which would be impossible without the talented keepers and veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo."

The zoo's education program includes year-round activities for schools and homeschoolers. Enrichment programs for animals include toys, special meals and holiday celebrations. This winter, the celebration starts at 6pm each day, says Draper: "This season's can't miss event at the zoo is TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights. During evenings through January 9, guests can enjoy an array of more than two million lights, festive music, holiday treats and much more. Zoo Lights is the perfect outing for family and friends!"

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