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April The Giraffe Phenomenon

How to turn April’s story into actionable results.

The social media story of April the giraffe reminds us that modern zoos and aquariums matter more today than ever before. Historically, zoos had one purpose: increase public education while providing great welfare for individual animals. Today, that responsibility continues but now includes the job of preserving entire species, both in human care and in the wild. These are huge tasks that are not always compatible because as we’ve learned from studying the wild, the needs of an individual are often at odds with what’s best for an entire population.

Nature has an efficient and elegant way to deal with this conflict. She favors preserving and strengthening the population– usually at the expense of the individual, and in ways that often seem cruel. Zoos don’t have that luxury of choosing sides in this continuing competition over what’s best for the individual vs. the group. We hope, study, and strive to do both, though admittedly, we are still trying to figure it out. Nor have we perfected the best ways of talking about this relatively new 21st century zoo challenge of saving species and habitat from extinction.