To start, it's important to do a little bit of research beforehand. Fact-check claims and counterarguments concerning the institution you may consider visiting. What is the zoo's primary source of funding? Be prepared to investigate with a fine-toothed comb if the establishment acquires the majority of its funding from ticket sales. How are the zoo's expenses broken down? Is more money spent on marketing than conservation initiatives? Take a look at the inventory of animals. Does the zoo have animals that are not suited for its regional climate (i.e. polar bears and penguins in hot, arid conditions or giraffes in cold areas)? How do the zoos acquire their animals? What happens to surplus animals? Does the institution belong to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the international regulatory and support network?
These are just a few of the basic questions any animal lover should find the answers to before visiting a zoo or aquarium, but you don't have to stop there. If you can't find the answers to these questions online, don't hesitate to email the zoo or its keepers directly. In the information age where anything can be cross-referenced, transparency and honesty is paramount, and it's much more damaging to an institution to lie and deceive rather than tell the truth, no matter how bad it may look. If you decide to visit a zoo or aquarium, the extra effort you make in determining the merit and integrity of the institution is one way of supporting the well-being of all animals.
By Frances Lai, online journalism intern
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