A zoological garden, or zoo for short, is a place where wild animals are encaged in an artificial environment and exhibited to the public.
The first zoos were private menageries, usually belonging to kings. King Charles the first started a zoo with a large python snake as the main attraction. The first public zoological garden was created in Vienna in 1752, when the Habsburg Emperors decided to grant public access to the former privately owned Schönbrunn Palace menagerie - now called Tiergarten Schönbrunn. After the French Revolution, the Paris zoo was opened to the public.
Over time, the mission of zoos has shifted from simply displaying exotic animals, to scientific study, and, later, to breeding them, and in particular maintaining populations of animals that are endangered or even extinct in the wild. The first scientific zoological garden in the modern world was founded in London in 1828, and opened to the public in the same year, as a way of funding its scientific work. Londoners soon shortened "zoological gardens" to "zoo."
Most modern zoos keep animals in enclosures that attempt to replicate their natural habitats.
Many zoos now have special buildings for nocturnal animals, with dim red lighting during the day, so the animals will be active when visitors are there, and bright lights at night to ensure that they sleep.
A petting zoo features a combination of domestic animals and some wild species that are docile enough to touch and feed. Petting zoos are extremely popular with small children. In order to ensure the animals' health, the food is supplied by the zoo, either from vending machines or a kiosk nearby. In addition to independent petting zoos, also called children's farms, many general zoos contain one.
Sometimes monkeys are not separated from the public, e.g. in the Apenheul zoo in Apeldoorn. Peafowl are also frequently allowed to roam free in zoos.
More than 135 million people visit zoos in the United States and Canada every year, but most zoos operate at a loss and must find ways to cut costs or add gimmicks that will attract visitors. The Wall Street Journal reported that “nearly half of the country’s zoos are facing cutbacks this year … [a]ttendance, meanwhile, is down about 3% nationwide.”
Nearly all large cities of the world have zoos, though of drastically varying size and quality. Major zoos are important tourist attractions, sufficiently so that governments may underwrite or subsidize the zoo's operating expenses. Public funding of zoos is also justified by their educational value, and they are a common destination for school field trips. Even so, many zoos have signs that provide little more information than an animal’s species, diet, and natural range. Most zoo funding primarily comes from donations and entrance fees.
Zoos vary in size and quality—from drive-through parks to small roadside menageries with concrete slabs and iron bars. Birds’ wings may be clipped so that they cannot fly, and many animals who live in large herds or family groups in nature are kept alone or in small groups. Natural hunting and mating behaviors are virtually eliminated by regulated feeding and breeding regimens.
Zoos are very dynamic, and are always breeding animals, promoting conservation, and building new exhibits. Zoo-talk has zoo and animal news from all over the world, all in one place.
Two of the most famous zoos in the United States are the Bronx and San Diego Zoos. The Bronx Zoo (operated by the New York Zoological Society ) is 265 acres (1.1 km²) and has more than 6,000 animals. It ranks as the largest zoo in size and animals. The San Diego Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals and is a world-famous zoo. However, the largest zoo in the United States is the North Carolina Zoo at 535 acres.