The Assiniboine Park Zoo was founded over a hundred years ago, in 1904. (The Zoological Society of Manitoba was founded in 1956.) From the beginning, the zoo was a centre of exploration and discovery. At that time, conservation issues were very different and the idea of zoos was more of a menagerie, a place to see animals from around the world. Remember that for the first few decades, the zoo was the only place to see weird and exotic animals, other than in books. Nowadays, we are able to see and learn about animals from all over the world on television and the internet. And just as our access to animals has changed, zoos have changed to better reflect both the needs of the animals and of the viewing public.
Most important among these changes has been a strong emphasis on conservation and on education. These are the two most important responsibilities of zoos, for me personally anyway. They’re why I got into zoo education as a career and they’re what drives me to do more each and every day. Zoos are also important locations for research, recreation and cultural development and if you haven’t been to a zoo in a few years, you might be surprised with some of the changes going on behind the bars. In fact, bars are really a thing of the past. The Assiniboine Park Zoo was a world leader 50 years ago when it first introduced bar-less bear exhibits. Nowadays, immersion exhibits are the rule and zoo staff work hard to make every animal’s home as natural and as stimulating as possible. Zoos have come a long way in the last 100 years, becoming dynamic centres for education, ground breaking research and species preservation.
But let’s put that aside for now and just take a nostalgic stroll down memory lane at the way it was. I know my grandparents would enjoy these – I hope you will too.