A teaching zoo is a working zoo which provides learning experiences for people who are studying zoology, zookeeping, and related fields. Classically, members of the public are allowed to visit the teaching zoo, and the zoo is run much like other zoological parks, but the staff of the zoo is comprised of students and teachers, rather than professional zoologists. Teaching zoos can provide very valuable experiences for people in the zoological field, and they may also be used to showcase groundbreaking research in everything from animal husbandry to new veterinary procedures.
Although teaching zoos are constructed around the need to teach people about zookeeping and zoological practices, many are also used for research, and for captive breeding of endangered animals. Research is a critical part of the field of zoology, providing more information about animal biology and contributing to the development of better animal husbandry techniques. Teaching zoos often have the staff and facilities to perform research, whereas conventional zoological parks do not.
Captive breeding is also an important part of a teaching zoo, both because it contributes to the genetic diversity of endangered species by making more animals available, and because it provides a learning opportunity for future zookeepers. Working in a teaching zoo, students can learn about how to handle animals, how to deal with a variety of real-world situations, and how to apply new techniques which may not be in widespread use. Students may also get an opportunity to meet leading figures in the field of zoology.
In addition to working in a teaching zoo, future zookeepers are also expected to do a great deal of coursework. Classroom education covers everything from safety around animals to animal nutrition, while the zoo experience allows people to practice procedures and to work directly with the animals that they are interested in. Teaching zoos are classically affiliated with colleges and universities which offer zoology courses.
In addition to being affiliated with schools, some teaching zoos are the schools. Pioneers in the field of zoology have developed teaching zoos and instructional programs which are used to establish zoological parks and breeding programs in nations with endangered animal populations, encouraging the residents of these nations to get involved in the preservation of the natural environment. A teaching zoo may also be attached to a veterinary college, giving exotic veterinarians a chance to work directly with the animals they are learning how to treat.