Top Zoos, Aquariums and Bioparks in Colombia

Find here the top zoos of Colombia! In the past entries Can Zoos be Considered as Fair Ecotourism Destinations? and Zoos in Colombia and COVID-19 Crisis: Your Visit Can Help Them, I covered the topics about defendind zoos, or not, why to visit zoos, or not, covid-19 pandemic effect on zoos survival, and about the importance of zoos in Colombia. I recommend you to read those posts to get a broader view about visiting zoos in Colombia, and around the world.

Visitors to zoos traditionally attended for entertainment purposes. Today, besides entertaining, visiting a zoo involves supporting education, awareness, and sensitization programs for the care of wildlife and the environment, and the rejection of wildlife trafficking. Some zoos are considered “a classroom open to research” or “a new place of hope“.

In this post I recommend you the best Zoos, Aquariums and Bioparks to visit in Colombia, specially during the post-covid-19 reality.

#1 Cali Zoo

The Cali Zoo is the best zoo of Colombia by far. There you will find native animals such as the Andean Condor, the Spectacled Bear, the Andean Cock-of-the-rock, the tapir, the puma and some primates, birds, fish and reptiles. There are also exotic animals such as zebras, hyenas, baboons, Bengal tigers, and zuricates, among others.

The Cali Zoo is home to many events, among them the Colombia BirdFair, the most important international bird fair in Colombia, which covers topics such as: conservation, bird watching tourism, education, etc.

Cali Zoo
Cali Zoo



FUNDACIÓN ZOOLÓGICA DE CALI, Cra. 2 oeste Calle 14, Santa Teresita. Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia.


It has education, communication, recreation and research programs for the conservation of Colombia’s biodiversity.

How to get there

The Cali Zoo is located in a noble area of the city. The closest hotels are the Hampton by Hilton, the Intecontinental de Cali, and El Obelisco. The trip from these places can be done on foot or by cab. If you go on foot from one of these hotels, it will be a nice half hour walk along the Rio Cali.

Tickets’ fee

Adults 7USD – Kids 5USD


It is not alowed the entrace for people older than 70 years old and younger than 6 years old.

#2 Marine World Aquarium, Santa Marta

Marine World Aquarium works to harmonize research, conservation, education and recreation purposes.

The design of the infrastructure of the Marine World Aquarium allows to have replicas of some marine ecosystems and physical phenomena. It constitutes the only engineering work of this type in Colombia, which, due to its specific technical characteristics, makes it possible to develop a great number of observations and investigations that are difficult to carry out in the natural environment.

It has 24 large exhibition aquariums and a giant swimming pool, where the visitor experiences the sensation of being submerged while contemplating the wonderful underwater life.

El Rodadero, Santa Marta, Colombia.



The Marine World Aquarium is located in El Rodadero. Carrera 2 # 11-68, El Rodadero, Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia.


Marine World Aquarium uses a series of exhibition aquariums of the different species and their environments, in order to become an educational and scientific tool.

Its objective is to promote the knowledge, conservation and adequate use of marine resources, and the commitment to the preservation of the environment, and to promote research.

It is also a destination for your company (MICE). Marine World encourages companies with special benefits and discounts if they purchase an Adoption Plan. With this plan you will be helping the care and attention of the species living in the aquarium.

How to get there

If your accommodation is in downtown Santa Marta, Mamatoco, Taganga or any other place in the city, you can get to El Rodadero by cab. It is a distance of about 5 km, and you will arrive in 15 minutes. It is not recommended to go by walk from Santa Marta.

Tickets’ fee

Adults 7USD – Kids 5USD


You can plan your kids’ birthday party there.

#3 Biopark Guatika

Most of the animals in Guátika have arrived because of the illegal traffic of fauna and have special conditions so they must remain under human care.

In Guátika Bioparque Zoo you can find more than 1000 animals of more than 100 different species. The Zoo has ample spaces, suitable in the best way possible, to provide the best welfare to the animals, for their mental and physical health.

In addition to visiting the animals, the zoo offers adventure activities such as horseback riding, buggy rides, sky coaster, wall climbing, ziplining, among other activities.

Guátika Hotel Boutique ©



Tibasosa at Km 1, Vía las Antenas, Tibasosa, Boyacá, Colombia.


Special programs for rescued animals from illegal traffic, which cannot be released to the wild and require human care.

How to get there

Tibasosa is a municipality in the department of Boyacá, located between the cities of Duitama and Sogamoso. Tibasosa is located 3 hours from Bogota.  From Bogotá you can take a private transportation to Tibasosa. The zoo is located 800 meters from the main park of Tibasosa

Tickets’ fee

Adults General 9USD – Adults Plus 20USD  – Kids and Older than 65 7.5USD


The park has the Guatika Boutique Hotel. The hotel houses a children’s club, a restaurant and a terrace. The accommodation has a hydromassage bathtub. Accommodation includes activities at the zoo. 

#4 La Reserva Biopark

The Reserve is a natural theme park and sanctuary for plants and animals rescued from illegal trafficking. This park is specialized in receiving, treating and releasing, when possible, the rescued animals.

As a visitor you will have the opportunity to connect with nature and get to know some of the Colombian ecosystems.

Green Jay – Cyanocorax yncas, La Reserva Biopark



Abra village, Km 1.2, Cota, Cundinamarca, Colombia. 


The reserve has developed innovative projects contributing to environmental education in Colombia, scientific research, knowledge about endangered species and the conservation of the country’s biological diversity by promoting respect for nature.

The park also has different projects related to animal care, water protection, and ecological restoration projects in which you can participate and make donations. 

How to get there

The Bioparque la Reserva is located 40 minutes from downtown Bogotá, in the municipality of Cota. From the center of Cota, you will arrive in 10 minutes by car, or in 30 minutes walking.

Tickets’ fee

Adults 8.5USD – Kids Free until 3 yeras old


Among its especial attractions are:

  • The recreation of a human construction taken by nature, where the visitor finds interpretative exhibitions of opportunistic animals such as rats, mice, cockroaches and snakes.
  • A space dedicated to illegal trafficking where visitors learn about the consequences it has on biodiversity.
  • A space to learn about the science that takes care of animals, the duties we have as pet owners, which animals you can have and which you can’t.
  • A workshop to discover the myths and truths about carnivorous plants.

#5 Ukumarí Biopark

The Biopark is located in one of the most important tourist areas of Colombia: the coffee zone. Ukumarí means, in Quechua language, the “one that has the strength of the Bear”. 

The Biopark has been under construction since 2015 and is expected to be the largest of its kind in Latin America, covering 820,000 square meters.

There will be aquariums, aviaries and attractions in the fourth dimension, as well as interactive games and adrenaline scenarios related to biodiversity.

The transfer of the animals from the old zoo was called Operation Noah’s Ark, which lasted 2 years between 2015 and 2016.

Ukumari Park ©Ukumari Website



Km 14 Vía Cerritos – Costado Sur – Pereira, Risaralda, Colombia. 21.5 km far from the Matecaña International Airport.


Ukumari Biopark replaced the old Matecaña zoo, with the purpose of developing a Biopark that would improve the quality of life of the animals, and also contribute to energize the tourist offer of the region.

The Biopark seeks to change man’s attitude towards the planet, the care of species and the environment.

How to get there

The Ukumari Biopark is located at Km 14, south margin, of the road that from Pereira leads to the Cerritos village. At Santa Barbara Station, only 8 km from Matecaña International Airport, you will find the clearly marked main access road that will take you (in a 1 km route) to the entrance of Ukumari and the Biopark parking lots.

Tickets’ fee

Adults 9.5USD – Kids 7USD


The nearest hotel is the Sonesta Pereira. Very nice Hotel!

#6 Los Ocarros Biopark

The biopark Los Ocarros, is committed to the preservation, rehabilitation and conservation of the native fauna of the Llanos Orientales. It consists of 5.5 hectares that have ample areas, which serve as habitat for about 680 animals of 150 species typical of the ecosystem of the eastern plains region of Colombia.

The visit to the biopark Los Ocarros is an example that tourism and ecological protection can go hand in hand.




Vanguardia village, Km 3 vía Villavicencio – Restrepo, Meta, Colombia.


This place focuses on environmental education as a tool for the conservation of the fauna of the eastern plains of Colombia.

It offers a virtual library with scientific documents of research results about the species present in the zoo.

Also, Bioparque los Ocarros, along with other organizations, attends and values confiscated or rescued animals, made available by the environmental authority, until the necessary conditioning is achieved to return them to their wild life.

How to get there

The biopark Los Ocarros, is located on the outskirts of the city of Villavicencio, 5 km from downtown. You can get there by car or walking. The Wyndham Garden Hotel is a recommended hotel to stay near to Los Ocarros. 

Tickets’ fee

Adults 4.5USD – Kids 3.5USD – Seniors 2.5USD


Guidance service is not included. The park offers specialized tours and events for one or more days, as well as workshops, conferences and seminars. 


Wild animals are not pets, leave them in their natural habitat, they don’t feel at home in your house! The possession of wild animals is a crime in Colombia and is penalized according to current regulations.

If you want to come to Colombia, don’t hesitate to contact us and plan your trip with us!

Coati walks on a trunk at he Biopark “La Reserva” in Cota, Colombia. The Coati was rescue by Colombian police and handed over to the Biopark to be taken care of.


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Zoos in Colombia and COVID-19 Crisis: Your Visit Can Help Them

Zoos in Colombia are very important, especially for animals that were victim of illegal trafficking.

The colombian zoos function as sanctuaries and shelters, since animals they receive mainly arrive through confiscations made by the environmental authorities.

In parallel, zoos in Colombia have been important by their education, research and conservation programs. These programs had an effect on reducing illegal trafficking, raised awareness of environmental problems and helped by recovering populations of some endangered animals.

Animals are Property of the Colombian State

According to the National Code of Natural Resources, animals are property of the State. Then, the slaughter of animals in zoos is not allowed by the State, or in any other condition.

Colombian law regulates zoos by decree 1608 of 1978. In the Article 180 it is defined a zoo as:

A zoo is understood to be a set of facilities, whether publicly or privately owned, where individuals of wild fauna are kept in confinement or semi-confinement for exhibition and educational purposes and where biological research on the species in captivity is carried out. These activities are carried out without commercial purposes, although fees are charged to the public for admission to the zoo.

Decree 1608 of 1978. Chapter II. Zoos. Article 180.

History of Zoos in Colombia

Tha Barranquilla zoo opened in 1953, and it was the first in country. Then came the Matecaña Zoo in Pereira in 1959, and the Santafé Zoo in Medellín in 1960. The Society of Public Improvements of the each city was the pioneer in opening these zoos.

People with private collections were the main donors of the first animals in these parks.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, zoos in Washington, New York, Chapultépec de México, Lisbon, Zurich, Miami, among others, helped to expand their collections.

Also, the zoos of Cali, in Valle del Cauca, and Santacruz, in Cundinamarca, were founded during that time.

In 1978 the Colombian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (ACOPAZOA) was founded by the directors of some of these zoos.

Read our entry Can Zoos be Considered as Fair Ecotourism Destinations? to know more about.

Modern Zoos in Colombia

Recently, in the last decade (2010 – Today), zoos in Colombia are making profound readjustments, despite several difficulties, mainly economic. The zoos that already existed are making structural changes. The main improvement has been to make the spaces more and more similar to natural ecosystems and maintain animals in semi-captivity.

Additionally, there is a greater focus on education and conservation programs. At the end of the 1990s, many Colombian zoos created environmental education departments. In them, several generations of children and youth have been trained as environmental educators.

Eagle rescued at La Reserva Biopark in Cota, Bogotá, Colombia

Those changes in Colombian zoos led to the more frequent use of the term “biopark” instead of “zoo”.

Examples of these bioparks are: Bioparque La Reserva in Cota, Cundinamarca, created in 2005, Bioparque Ukumarí, inaugurated in 2015 in Pereira, or Bioparque Los Ocarros and Tiuma Park in Villavicencio.

Where do Colombian Zoo Animals come from?

Native Fauna

Confiscations are the main source of animals in Colombian zoos, so most of the animals are native. Zoos also obtain animals through exchanges between zoos, voluntary donations, and births.

Animal rescued at La Reserva Biopark in Cota, Bogotá, Colombia

Exotic Fauna

Exotic animals present in zoos are mainly obtained from circuses, or from seizures. They also come from donations from foreign zoos, and their progeny.

A famous confiscation was to the drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. He had elephants, rhinos, camels, and hippopotamuses at his famous Hacienda Nápoles.

Nowadays you can go on safari to Hacienda Napoles, for more information about safaris in Colombia visit our post Booking a Safari in Colombia? Find here the Best Options!

Many conservation programs in different zoos in the country have breeding programs to maintain populations or individuals of endangered species such as the Andean condor, some marmosets, the endangered Blue-billed Curassow, among others. They also have them to maintain the collection.

Zoos in Colombia are Shelters

It is of vital importance to keep in mind that Colombia’s zoos are places of refuge where wild animals arrive from the illegal traffic of fauna. In general, many of these animals cannot be reintegrated into the wild, and in the zoo, they receive a good quality of life.

Black spider monkey was rescued after being abused in a circus ©The Guardian. 2019

On the other hand, environmental education programs in zoos have helped thousands of people understand the problem of illegal trafficking of species and combat it in different ways.

Thus, there are conservation programs in the zoos that aim to rehabilitate confiscated individuals, reproduce them, and release their offspring into their natural habitats.

Despite this, many people still believe that zoos buy animals from hunters and that a dying animal can be easily replaced.

The Future of Zoos in Colombia

There is still a long way to go before all zoos in Colombia become protected areas in natural environments, where animals live in semi-captivity.

In our entry Can Zoos be Considered as Fair Ecotourism Destinations? you will find the Colombian zoos affiliated with WAZA.

Zoos strive to develop adoption programs or memberships through social networks. They also campaign to receive support from individuals and private institutions. Unfortunately, the support of the State is very little to maintain these places.

COVID-19 Crisis for Zoos in Colombia

Many zoos in Colombia do not live in quarantine, they try to survive it.

The nearly 20,000 animals that live in Colombia’s 23 zoos, have not been spared the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.

These months of quarantine have put many Colombian zoos in check. There is great uncertainty about their future because maintaining a zoo costs a lot of money, for example, about $50,000 a month just to feed a set of tigers.

The majority of zoos have received money during the quarantine from donations, and many survive with bank loans, but it is not enough. In contrast, State aid has been very short.

Your Visit Can Help

Many zoos in Colombia have as their main income the public entrance fees.

On June 21st the Cali Zoo was the first to receive visitors again in Colombia, with a gradual and controlled reopening.

During October and November, Zoos like Oceanario in the Rosario Islands, and Ukumarí Biopark in Pereira opened to the public. And so, many others are trying to comply with all biosecurity protocols to open up to the public.

I know that for a wildlife tourist, visiting a zoo doesn’t sound very exciting. But the pandemic has given us another perspective.

Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas) at La Reserva Biopark in Cota, Bogotá, Colombia

By visiting a zoo, you will have a taste of the local wildlife. You will also know the main local environmental problems, and you can even help, if you want.

When to Visit

You can visit zoos all year round, as long as they are open. You can make that first day of your arrival, or the day of your departure, a good time to hang out, since many zoos are located near the cities, where your hotel and airport are easy to reach.

With your visit, you will also help to keep these animals that cannot be released into the wild.

If you come to Colombia, do not hesitate to visit one of our zoos and bioparks. We know that for many it is not their moral pleasure to visit animals in captivity, but as long as we have no other way to keep these animals victims of trafficking and abuse, it is good to take a look around, maybe it will change your perspective.


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Can Zoos be Considered as Fair Ecotourism Destinations?

Yes, I know, defending zoos or not is a thorny subject. And believe me, there is not a satisfactory conclusion for everybody. In the end it is up to you to make your choices. Here I will give some information to take into account.

The tourism industry uses animals in many different ways and scenarios: races and competitions, gastronomy, hunting, sportfishing, and watchers.

In general, people interested in wildlife have two options:

  1. Experience direct contact with wildlife in the field, in nature, by visiting natural reserves or parks, but not having any direct contact with it; or,
  2. Visiting zoos, aquaria, or botanical gardens, and enjoy encounters that give them an opportunity to interact directly with wild species, by having the opportunity to touch, hold, feed, and record them.

In addition, in wildlife tourism, there is a known strong relationship between the success of tourists in seeing animals and satisfaction. They always expect to receive realistic expectations about where and when they will be able to see most of the wildlife they want to see to avoid disappointment.

Why do Zoos Exist?

Human beings have always been captivated by the unknown, the rare, the exotic… and by vanity and pride also. Having a collection of wild animals or plants was a hobby for Kings and Monarchs since ancient times. And this is why and how zoos appeared in their origins.

They started as animal collections, called menageries (house of beasts), owned by wealthy people wanting to display their monetary power.

Equus grevyi in the Ménagerie (house of beasts) Jardin des Plantes Paris. Gift of Menelik II to France (Image from 1882) ©Henri Viallanes (1856-1893) Public Domain.

Later on, the Age of Enlightenment brought a new interest for everything, and intellectual and scientific knowledge became more relevant than power displays.

During this time nature expeditions began, and many menageries became into zoos, even though they were still very limited and uncomfortable for animals and plants. One of the most famous was the Jardine des Plantes in Paris.

Modern Zoos

With the rise of the scientific community and research, and so the growth of understanding about other living beings and ecosystems, menagerie – museums like zoos started to transition to what we know as a modern zoo.

A modern zoo is supposed to be meant principally to recreate and educate people, and put them in contact with wildlife while supporting scientific research, education and species conservation.

Sea lions relaxing at the Central Park Zoo in New York City ©CreativeCommons

Zoos are more than the city zoos we see in movies and television (watch Penguins of Madagascar show as an example). There are several other types of zoos, among them safari parks, game preserves, petting zoos, rural and roadside zoos, aquaria, animal theme parks and specialized collections.

There are also specialized zoos and gardens focused on recreate the natural habitats of specific animals and plants, where they live in semi-captivity conditions.

In Colombia, we have examples of these specialized zoos such as the Oceanarium in Cartagena, the botanical garden of Bogotá, Los Ocarros Park in Villavicencio, the Ukumari Park in Risaralda, just to mention a few of them.

Defending Zoos or Not

As mentioned before, for many of us, a zoo and a botanical garden is our first and perhaps only introduction to a living wild animal or plant species.

In some regions even common species can be difficult to see, not to mention rare ones that require conservation care. And it is in these cases that a zoo takes on a greater role in educating, researching and conserving wildlife.

However, there is a tiny gap between exploitation and education. Not everything is a bed of roses. There are many examples of cruel management in zoos, out of all logic, common sense and compassion.

For example, let’s remember the case of Marius, the giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo, who was euthanized in 2014, only because he could not reproduce, even though he was a healthy animal.

Sit-in protest against zoos and conservation of animal species under conditions of confinement and according to rules that involve practices such as euthanasia for reasons of conservation of the species. In the foreground a puppet giraffe, to represent the case of Marius ©CreativeCommons

In addition, there are several studies addressing the issue of “whether zoos are a morally acceptable form of ecotourism. The biggest criticisms of zoos have been the captivity of animals and the conditions of animal welfare. Thus, animal welfare and their removal from nature are persistent challenges for zoos.

Despite zoos have put more importance on conservation and compassionate animal treatment, and play an important role in protecting endangered species, animal rights defenders say it is cruel to keep animals in captivity. They argue that “living in captivity takes away wild animals’ natural behavior and instincts” (PETA-UK).

Is it a Zoo Defensible as an Ecotourism Setting or Attraction?

This question raises another even more complex question, that of why we, the species Homo sapiens sapiens, are using other species for our enjoyment? And even more so in contexts that harm the animals, such as fishing or hunting?

Perhaps zoos are not defensible as tourist attractions in moral terms. But ethics and good practice can defend them.

Bioparque La Reserva Foundation – Natural theme park and sanctuary of plants and animals rescued from illegal traffic

The relationship between ecotourism and zoos must be based on an understanding of what is an acceptable use of animals for ecotourism purposes and what is not. This is despite the fact that many zoo visitors do so for entertainment rather than education and conservation.

And here is the divide: while some people support conservation and endure enjoying wildlife at a distance, or through documentaries, the growing wildlife tourism industry shows that there are others with a strong interest in having close and personal experiences as well.

How can it be solved? Including as ecotourism interactions those zoos where the interests of animals are above the interests of humans, i.e. places that apply clear practices in accordance with international standards and animal ethics.

WAZA: World Association of Zoos and Aquariums

WAZA is a global alliance dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world since 1935. It also guides and encourages zoos to maintain best practices according to international standards and animal ethics.

The WAZA has two types of membership: one of them is an association member that is through another regional or local zoo association such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in America. The other one is a direct institutional membership of WAZA.

If you want to know more about WAZA and related associations, visit the WAZA website or the article World Association of Zoos and Aquariums in Wikipedia.

There is also a link that helps you to find the best zoos around the world on the AZA’s website.

Despite the existence of these alliances, less than a third part of the total zoos are recognized for maintaining best practices according to international standards.

Sustainable Zoos in Colombia

There are many reserves and natural parks where you can observe free animals and plants in their natural habitat. If you are interested in seeing wild animals up close I recommend you to read our entries Booking a Safari in Colombia? Find here the Best Options! and When and Where to Go to See Humpback Whales in Colombia

Related to zoos, in Colombia there are two organizations linked to WAZA which are the Colombian Association of Zoos, Aquariums and Related (ACOPAZOA) and the Fundación Zoológico de Cali.

Affliated to AZA there is only the Zoológico de Cali in Colombia.

Pink flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) at the Zoológico de Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia

Affiliated to ACOPAZOA you can find the following zoos, aquaria and foundations in Colombia which are committed to animal welfare, research and conservation in Colombia:

  1. Marine World Aquarium
  2. Rodadero Sea Aquarium and Museum
  3. Tití Project Foundation
  4. Barranquilla Zoo
  5. National Aviary of Colombia
  6. Rosario Islands Oceanarium
  7. Explora Park Aquarium
  8. Santa Fe Zoo
  9. Santa Cruz Zoo Foundation
  10. Piscilago Recreational Park and Zoo
  11. Guátika Zoo
  12. Cali Zoo
  13. Los Ocarros Biopark
Colombian Zoos Affiliated to ACOPAZOA which are committed to animal welfare, research and conservation in Colombia (Photo took from ACOPAZOA

How Wildlife Tourism and Zoos can Protect Animals and Habitats in the Wild?

Thousands of tourists and local people travel to several places around the world to see animals or plants semi-wild in a reserve, a zoo, a botanical garden or captive in a rehabilitation center.

Several academic studies on nature tourists’ choices showed that many of them travel to see specific species. For example, many people travel to Australia to know the kangaroos or the koalas, or travel to Malaysia to know the Orangutans, or travel to Colombia to watch the endemic Multicolored Tanager, or to Brazil for jaguars in the Pantanal.

Many tourists travel to Colombia to see the unique and special wax palm.

The studies also found that many tourists would be happy not to see these wildlife species, as long as they were preserved in their natural habitats.

Thus, the wildlife experience can be separated from the wildlife and that could benefit both tourists and animals still living in the wild (Garnett and Zander, 2014).

Extinct in the Wild but Alive in Captivity

It is also true that for many species, zoos became the only place where they have shelter and protection, and this is why, in my opinion, it is not correct to attack zoos, but to question the causes of the huge loss of natural habitats around the world.

The critically endangered cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) at the Tití Project Foundation Reserve in Los Límites, Atlántico, Colombia

A well-known example of an animal that has been classified as extinct in the wild (category EW, IUCN) is the famous Spix’s Macaw, known from the film Rio. Centuries of deforestation, human settlement and agricultural development devastated their natural habitat. Today less than 100 individuals live in captivity in preservation centers, parks and private collections around the world.

Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) – Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin – ©CreativeCommons

The loss of habitat due to land use transformation for businesses and occupation, and the exaggerated increase of the human population with its corresponding, and badly planned, expansion, are the true executioners of wildlife.

Mass Extinction and the Anthropocene

We are witnessing a mass extinction of species, the sixth to be precise, since dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Now we live in the Anthropocene (10,000 BCE – 2020 CE), a time in which human activity has been the trigger for the extinction of other species on a large scale.

The western black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes) or West African black rhinoceros was a subspecies of the black rhinoceros, declared extinct by the IUCN in 2011. ©CreativeCommons

It is expected that up to half the world’s species will be gone by 2050. We need to care more about the choices we can make and what comes next, to avoid such devastation.

The Role of Zoos in Biodiversity Conservation

If tourists want to see wildlife in its natural habitat, they are likely to face a long and uncomfortable journey by bus, canoe, or on foot or by diving, in places such as dense jungles, deserts or the open sea – all for a very small chance of glimpsing a terrified animal or an unblooming plant.

So, the upside of visiting a place where wildlife still looks and behave as if they are wild, but without the long trip and discomfort, becomes a realistic and better option.

As for the true wildlife, they would happily never feel additional stress than the one caused by poachers, lumberjacks, bulldozers, among other horrible things.

Ostrich Park, Puerto López, Meta

Both, wild and semi-captive populations can benefit from each other. People get to see and be in touch with wildlife, without perturbing the real natural habitats. On the other hand, they will take the message for supporting conservation and research.

The Role of Zoos in Sustainable Tourism

Zoos are an important part of responsible wildlife tourism, not only for their contribution to conservation but to the local economies.

For example, in countries like Malaysia, tourists can contribute, on average US$16.5 million a year to the local economy, by paying for specialized nature trips to see orangutans.

Tourists also expect that their contributions go to help the remaining truly wild species in and around remote and natural areas in the region.

Community-based tourism in Atlántico, Colombia

Unfortunately, conservationists are finding that many threatened species do need to earn a dollar to justify their protection and existence.

Examples of it are orangutans, penguins, jaguars, which show that they can attract an appreciative public capable of paying not only with their admiration but with their money, which also helps to support the local people by increasing tourism.

Conclusion: To Visit Zoos or Not?

If you do not have the time or money for a trip to a remote place, or if you have never had a close experience with wildlife, a zoo or a botanical garden is a good option to start.

When visiting a zoo or a botanical garden, besides getting involved with exotic animals or plants, many of which are in threat of extinction in nature, you will also help research and conservation projects.

But remember! There is a link between the experience of visiting animals in captivity and their conservation in the wild, as well as their habitat. The zoo you choose to visit and the causes you support will make all the difference.


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.