What is a Teaching Zoo?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A teaching zoo provides learning opportunities for future zookeepers.
A teaching zoo provides learning opportunities for future zookeepers.

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.

Teaching zoos provide opportunities for guests to learn about conservation efforts for endangered species.
Teaching zoos provide opportunities for guests to learn about conservation efforts for endangered species.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I did a zoology course a few years ago that involved visiting the local wildlife center, although I don't know if it was strictly a teaching zoo, since we were just there doing observational research that didn't involve anything an ordinary visitor couldn't do.

We basically had to sit and observe a particular species of monkey and the small herd of rhinos for a couple of hours and note down the different behaviors they exhibited, the way that a zoologist would out in the wild.

It was both fascinating and kind of boring at the same time, since rhinos in particular don't really do all that much in the middle of the day.


@Fa5t3r - I also like those zoos where they rescue wild animals (often sea birds, turtles and mammals) and rehabilitate them on the grounds.

It's actually a pretty smart business move on the part of my local zoo as well since they often are able to advertise in the newspapers that they have a recovering albatross or penguin for the public to come and say hello to. It gives them a changing exhibit without the cost of having to house creatures for the long term, as well as aiding in conservation efforts and providing chances for students to learn.


One of the things I love about teaching zoos is that they often have facilities set up so that people- even visitors who aren't students- can observe animals that are being cared for by the veterinarians.

My local zoo has a beautiful little seating area set up where you can see any animals that have to go into surgery and cameras and screens and microphones so that whatever is happening will be explained to the public.

I don't think they would use it if there was a serious surgery, but one time when I was there one of the wild dogs swallowed something it shouldn't have and they had to put camera down into her stomach. How often can you say that you've been there as the surgeon was doing that to a wild dog? It was pretty amazing.

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