Friday, August 14, 2015

Making your zoo visit count

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Today I'm welcoming Megan, my long time friend and my personal go-to when it comes to questions about conversationalism and ocean animals! One of my favorite things to see on my facebook feed was when Megan was working with a stranding group and she'd share about what she's working on...mostly with processing stranded whales or seals, but there's always a ton to be learned about what these animals leave behind. What I'm saying is - for the last several years I've been bouncing around in my head about how I can turn fun zoo and aquarium trips into educational experiences for myself and the kids; rather than a sideline show where they ooh and ahh at an animal and quickly move on to the next, not really comprehending that this animal that they saw was actually very special and rare. I talked to Megan about this and she was gracious enough to write up a post about it and share her thoughts as a professional in the field! 

Zoos and aquariums are a catch-22 for me. On the one hand, they provide the general public access to animals they would otherwise probably never encounter and can serve as an educational tool for conservation efforts of their wild counterparts. They can also be a last resort to prevent a species from going entirely extinct due to habitat destruction, poaching, climate change, etc. But how many times have you been to the zoo and actually taken the time to read and learn about the animals there or attend one of the zookeeper talks? I know there are people out there who do because I am one of those people but too often I see people simply wandering around from exhibit to exhibit, glancing at the animals but not really putting in the effort to learn or engage their children to learn. This is where part of my issue with them lies. Admittedly, it is not really an issue with the zoos themselves but with the people visiting; however I also feel it falls on zoo staff/volunteers to create engaging learning environments so that more people will want to learn. Here are some of my tips for making your trip to the zoo fun, educational and an act of conservationalism:

  • Stop and read the postings at each exhibit to learn about the animals and their natural habitats.
  • Take the time to attend talks by zookeepers and don’t be embarrassed to ask questions!
  • If you are a frequent zoo-goer, have each visit focus on a certain area and spend time before and after your trip learning about each area and its wild inhabitants. 

My other issue with captivity is just that—captivity. While most captive animals these days were born that way and would therefore not survive in the wild, I can’t help but feel that they deserve bigger and more natural habitats, much like what a sanctuary provides. Besides, isn’t the point of checking out a polar bear at the zoo to see how it would naturally behave in the Arctic, something most of us will never get to experience? I’m all for going to zoos/aquariums (in fact, I LOVE going!) but I would encourage everyone to slow down, take your time and turn something fun for the kids into a learning experience for all. 

How do you turn a zoo or aquarium visit 
into an educational experience for yourself or your kids?
Check out The Pierogie Mama's zoo bucket list!

A little about Megan: I'm currently a stay at home mama to an almost 9-month old little man named Declan. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology at Hawaii Pacific University, where I focused on marine mammalogy. After graduating and moving back to Washington, I worked for a marine mammal research organization, doing photo identification work and stranding response. I currently live in central North Carolina but hope to make it back to the coast so I can work in my field again. You may remember me from my Shark Week posts on The Pierogie Mama's facebook page


  1. Great tips for visiting a zoo! We try to go at least once per year.

  2. Great tips! We go a few times each year!

  3. My son and I have a zoo pass and go all the time!! We really enjoy it and learn so much!! We are beginning to know more and more each year!! Its so neat!! Last time we were there I say the zookeeper pet a hippo on its nose and tongue!! I was totally blown away!! How amazing!



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