Why do we still hold animals in captivity? Jessie Chiang takes a trip to Auckland Zoo to find out how it’s changed. 

If you’ve spent any amount of time online recently, you’ve probably seen the pictures of baby animals at Auckland Zoo.

There have been cute furry baby otters, a baboon, even a baby rhino.

But underneath the fluff and excitement begs the question, aren’t there ethical and moral concerns about keeping wild animals in zoos?

Today The Detail looks at what could be viewed now as the dark past of the nearly 100-year-old Auckland Zoo; how it’s changed; and where it’s going.

The head of conservation planning, Richard Jakob-Hoff has been working at the zoo for more than 30 years and took Jessie Chiang on a tour.

We look at the old elephant house and also the area where the tea party chimps were kept.

“It involved dressing them up in children’s clothes and actually having a table and chairs and a tea set,” he says.

“This was well before my time … and it was typical of the time of enclosures that animals had which was concrete and bars.”

But Jakob-Hoff is extremely proud of the zoo’s direction towards conservation.

There’s the New Zealand Centre for Conservation where many endangered kakapo were treated after being infected with a deadly fungal disease last year.

Cute fluffy animal alert – these baby otters lit up social media. Picture: Ak Zoo/supplied

Its conservation fund has contributed more than $4 million to conservation projects all over the world.

Jakob-Hoff talks about the animals they would never bring back, why physical encounters rather than virtual ones are needed with animals, and his hopes for zoos in the future – it might not be what you expect.

The Detail also speaks to Kevin Buley, the Auckland Zoo director, who says there aren’t a lot of ethical zoos around.

“So many people still have an understandable issue with zoos, indeed I have a problem with the vast majority of zoos in the world because there are a lot of bad ones out there,” he says.

“Animals do suffer in a lot of zoos, but in good zoos when you get it right, they can have a better life than their counterparts in the wild.”

Buley talks about why accreditation to international zoo authorities is important, and about continually reviewing the species they keep at the zoo.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

Jessie Chiang is the associate producer of The Detail podcast.

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