Why Do We Still Have Zoos?

Why Do We Still Have Zoos?

Why do we have zoos? Why do we bring animals from all over the world to our cities, towns and communities? With all of the information, statistics, pictures and videos on the internet, why do we still have zoos?


In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shares the story about Roseto, Pennsylvania. I won't go into detail about Roseto's history but I will share a little about the manner in which the town was studied by Dr. Stewart Wolf, and how his efforts to understand the town answer the question,

“Why do we still have zoos?”

Dr. Wolf began studying the town of Roseto in the 1960s. He'd heard that the Rosetans lived longer and healthier lives than the average American, and he wanted to know why.

Wolf compared Roseto to towns in similar geographical areas. He studied genetics; did other immigrants from the same region of Italy, but who chose to live somewhere other than Roseto, have similar health and longevity? Was it the way the Rosetans prepared their food? Did they exercise more rigorously or more often?

Wolf looked at comparison studies, historical records, socioeconomic information; essentially every piece of data he could get his hands on to help him understand Roseto, its people, and how they lived such long and healthy lives.

After studying all of the data and statistics, the answer, it turned out, was much simpler yet much more complex.

What Wolf found was that the people in Roseto lived no different from people in the rest of the United States; or so it appeared on paper. Had Wolf and his team of researchers only looked at the data, the statistics, figures and numbers, they would have missed the reality of the situation and never found what it was that made Roseto different, what made Roseto special.

So, why do we still have zoos?

We have zoos for the same reasons that stumped Wolf and his team when they first began their research.

We have zoos because you can't learn everything you need to know by reading statistics. Your height, weight, shirt and shoe size don't accurately describe who you are as a person. Every data point about Roseto didn't tell Wolf what he was looking for.

We have zoos because a quick glance at how a group of animals communicate and interact with one another isn't enough. A single image or brief report cannot capture the living organism that is created only when mammals come together in community. Looking only at pictures and reports on the Roseto community didn't show Wolf what couldn't be recorded on paper.

We have zoos because no matter how many pictures you see in magazines or on the internet, or how many videos you watch on TV, you will never truly know how animals behave until you observe and study them in person. Thus, the zoo.

The lesson  I learned from Outliers is I have to look beyond first impressions and past numbers and words on a page. If I am to truly understand a group of people, a team of individuals and the men and women I lead, I have to spend time with them. I must truly get to know them and who they are outside of what I might read in a document, a spreadsheet or report.

So, what made Roseto and its inhabitants special?

It was a combination of things.

The Rosetans lived longer and healthier lives because of the things you wouldn't find in any file, because of the community that they'd created. Multiple generations of a family lived under the same roof. The men and women worked hard but took the time to socialize, stopping in the streets to check in with their friends. They also regularly attended church, which gave the Rosetans a connection to something greater than themselves. They were rooted, connected and they had purpose.

The Rosetans were more than who they were on paper.

The people you lead are more than who they are on paper.


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