Why We Love Zoos

More than 150 million people visit zoos and aquariums every year in the United States, writes Diane Ackerman in a recent column for the New York Times. She wonders what draws so many of us to them.

“It’s not just a pleasant outing with family or friends, or to introduce children (whose lives are a cavalcade of animal images) to real animals, though those are still big reasons,” she writes. “I think people are also drawn to a special stripe of innocence they hope to find there.”

This two-year-old male grey wolf with beautiful
black fur arrived earlier this year to his new
habitat at the zoo. Courtesy of the Minnesota Zoo.

As she did in her 2008 best seller, The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story, Ackerman draws a connection in her column between how people feel about animals and what it means to be human. Zoos’ park-like settings offer an oasis from the hustle and noise of the city to be sure, she writes, but their attraction runs deeper than that. The landscape stirs our “wilderness memory” creating a “feral harmony that intrigues and lulls.”

As you would expect, Ackerman cites research that suggests that more than half of zoo visitors consist of family groups. But a big portion consists of visitors like my wife and me: adult couples with no children. Zoo researchers, secretly observing zoo guests as they stroll through the zoo, find that couples talk very little during their visit, writes Ackerman. “Yet they appeared to the observers to feel closer knit as a result of the visit, judging by their body language, as if there were a special bond that crystallized only in the presence of animals.”

Each year, the Minnesota Zoo attracts more than 1.3 million visitors. With new attractions added in recent years, such as Russia’s Grizzly Coast and most recently the 3M Penguins of the African Coast, the zoo continues to reinvent itself, with more exciting renovations on the way. And this summer, the zoo will open a unique temporary exhibit, Dinosaurs, featuring 15 larger-than-life animatronic dinosaurs, including a T-Rex.

Reading Diane Ackerman’s column makes me realize that it’s been too long since I’ve paid a visit to the Minnesota Zoo. I can’t tell you exactly why I like the zoo, but I do. (It won’t be long before they announce the schedule for the annual summer concerts in the zoo. If you haven’t seen a band play there, I would recommend it. It’s a lot of fun to hear your favorite music under the stars on a hot summer night.) Whether you are looking to commune with nature, attend a thrilling 3-D IMAX movie, or simply take a pleasurable outdoor stroll, there’s plenty to see and do. Spring is just around the corner, and the zoo makes for a wonderful family trip. Or if you are like me, you’ll discover that it’s just as good for adults too.

The Minnesota Zoo
13000 Zoo Boulevard
Apple Valley mnzoo.org

Open every day except Thanksgiving & December 25.
Memorial Weekend–Labor Day 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily
September 9 a.m.–4 p.m. weekdays (to 6 p.m. weekends)
October–April 30 9 a.m.–4 p.m. daily
May 9 a.m.–4 p.m. weekdays (to 6 p.m. weekends)