I greatly enjoyed reading Sadie Dingfelder’s January 4 Washington Post article “Stalking an elusive YouTube star: The adorkable red panda,” which highlights just one of the many unique behind-the-scenes experiences offered to visitors at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. Animal encounters, like those that Ms. Dingfelder‘s family participated at Oglebay’s Good Zoo, provide an increasingly rare and precious commodity in today’s world —connections to wildlife and nature.
Close-up animal encounters are valuable learning opportunities. These experiences take both children and adults beyond the traditional zoo visit, allowing them to observe and interact with the animals directly. Visitors also get the chance to interact one-on-one with the knowledgeable, dedicated, professional staff who manage the animals’ care. When guests make first-hand discoveries about animal behavior, they build their knowledge in a way that goes beyond what they could read in a book or watch on TV.
However, what are truly special about these experiences are the emotional connections formed during these encounters. The unique experience of an animal’s touch and smell, getting the opportunity to look them directly in the eye, moves you to care more deeply about protecting these animals and their habitats. Ms. Dingfelder described this mix of awe, empathy, and respect that she and her family felt for the red pandas and otters during their encounter. Both red pandas and otters are a part of AZA’s Species Survival Plan program or SSP, meaning education about these animals is crucial in saving species.
Research has shown that engagement with living habitats, like animal encounters and touch tank experiences, can help encourage conservation awareness and caring for animals. Animal encounter experiences at AZA-accredited facilities are not only teaching visitors about animals, but building connections with and respect for wildlife and wild places. These experiences deliver on AZA mission of inspiring the next generation of conservationists.
Oglebay’s Good Zoo has been an accredited member of AZA since 1976. AZA-accreditation signifies that the zoo is committed to meeting the very highest standards in animal care and animal welfare, contributing to impactful wildlife conservation, and providing educational guest experiences. I encourage everyone to visit their local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium and explore the one-of-a-kind learning opportunities offered.