California State University, Northridge

Reaching Out to the Non-Zoogoing Public Through the Use of Rare Domestic Animals

[paper delivered at the AZA Regional Conference
in Indianapolis, March 18, 1999]

Donna FitzRoy Hardy, Ph.D.
California State University, Northridge

Conservation as a theme in zoos is commonly incorporated into programs on endangered species as well as in a variety of educational programs. One important means that zoos use to increase public appreciation of and respect for nature is by giving their visitors personal experiences with living animals. Indeed, many of us believe that providing direct experience with animals is an integral part of increasing environmental awareness and gaining support for zoo conservation programs. Of course, many zoos are aware that in giving visitors "up close and personal" exposure to animals, they may be cultivating a love affair between the American public and exotic species that may encourage ownership of inappropriate species as pets. Indeed, zoos have been making a concerted effort to help the public understand why wild animals should stay out of private hands, and some zoos are accomplishing this by using resources that most zoos already have in their collections - familiar domestic animals. Programs that feature domestic animals can reinforce the AZA message "Wild animals do not make good pets" by adding "...but some domestic animals make wonderful pets." While domestic animals have traditionally served as cuddly contact animals for children in petting zoos, their role has been expanded to strengthen the bond between animals and children (of all ages). And in addition, some zoos have found that domestic animals can serve as "magnets" to attract people who are not regular zoo visitors. It is outreach to this group that I want to talk about today.

As you know, zoo visitorship in our country is at an all-time high - more people visit zoos each year than attend all professional sports events combined. So if they are so well- attended, why would zoos need to reach out to the non-zoogoing public? I believe that the people who do not go to zoos are less informed about (and perhaps less supportive of) wildlife conservation. The population that is attracted to zoos is mostly urban, probably because of the fact that zoos, like museums and other cultural institutions, are primarily municipal undertakings. If this is true, then neither the conservation messages of zoos nor their environmental education programs are reaching a significant proportion of the American public - the rural audience. While zoos are increasingly successful in helping their visitors understand the importance (and complexities) of wildlife conservation, I believe it is critical that they now consider people who live in rural areas as their next target audience.

If zoo visitation and support comes from a disproportionate urban population, it is probably because of their closer proximity to zoos. But perhaps another reason that city dwellers visit and support zoos is that these people do not have as much contact with animals as do their rural counterparts. People who live in rural areas often have regular access to a wider variety of animals: in addition to having dogs and cats as pets (as do urban dwellers), many rural people own and work with livestock, are likely to attend fairs, and may even participate in livestock competitions. Many of my friends in Tulare County, California, attend rodeos and other livestock events and are active members of livestock organizations like The Backcountry Horsemen. And while they are enthusiastic and devoted animal lovers, most of them show absolutely no interest in going to zoos to see exotic animals. Indeed, when they think of wildlife, most of them think of species to be hunted rather than as an integral part of the natural environment. Indeed, most of my friends in Tulare County show no special interest in wildlife except for the species that they hunt. And since trout is stocked in the Tule River, they show no particular interest in the status of native fish populations either. If there is less interest in zoos among rural than urban residents, then zoos may want to explore ways to widen their appeal to this group.

Our challenge for the next century will be to increase public understanding of the importance of conserving our natural resources and protecting (or restoring) natural ecosystems, but I believe that much of the public today doesn't appreciate the importance of the natural environment. [My friends in Tulare County clearly do not understand why endangered plants and animals and their habitats should be preserved. Indeed, most of these people are extremely hostile toward the Endangered Species Act because the potential negative impact that it might have on residents of this area!] Zoos are much more effective than the mass media in bringing conservation awareness to the American public, but how can they reach beyond the segment of this public in urban areas and attract visitors from rural areas? Since a lot of rural people are interested in hunting and in domestic livestock, perhaps these interests can be used to attract them to zoos. Indeed, providing exotic animals for sport hunting would clearly attract a lot of rural people, but zoos are clearly not going to open "game ranches" for this purpose! So I suggest that zoos explore a second option: displaying the kind of domestic animals that would attract people from rural areas. And once people become zoo visitors, they can be exposed to their conservation messages.

So why would people in rural areas who are familiar with a wide variety of domestic livestock want to go to zoos to see these same species? Before we address this question, perhaps we need to ask "Why do urban people visit zoos?" The answer to this latter question is probably the same today as it was a hundred years ago when people went to menageries to see animals that they had never seen - the rare, exotic animals from faraway lands. And just as there are rare, exotic wild animals, there are also rare, exotic domestic animals. While rural people may not be especially interested in seeing native wildlife or exotic wild animals from other countries, they can be attracted to zoos that display unfamiliar domestic animals: the rare (and endangered) breeds of livestock. We already have some evidence that this is true. Since the Memphis Zoo acquired their rare Caspian horses, people who are interested in horses have become zoo visitors for the first time!

Rare Breeds of Domestic Livestock in Zoo Collections

The inclusion of rare breeds of domestic animals in zoo collections can serve the function of attracting new zoo visitors and thereby expanding the zoo audience. In an effort to interest the general public in these rare animals (and in visiting zoos that display them), I am in the process of writing a series of books about rare breeds of domestic livestock. The first of the series is The Uncommon Horse, a book about the history of domestication of horses and the relationship between people and these animals. But rather than being about horse breeds in general, the book is about individual horses, donkeys and mules on display at AZA zoos and other public facilities (e.g., the Kentucky Horse Park, which displays forty breeds of horses). I believe that this book will be of special interest to people who love horses as well as to people who are involved with domestic livestock (e.g., horse breeders and parents with children involved in 4-H and FFA programs). And by linking these animals to their living relatives (e.g., zebras, wild asses, Asian wild horses) in this book, I hope to promote an appreciation for wild equids.

The Uncommon Horse will feature about a dozen breeds of rare horses and their relatives (e.g., zebras and wild asses) as well as mules and rare domestic asses. In addition to introducing the wild equids that are on display in zoos, the chapter on "Wild Relatives of Domestic Horses" will highlight the three endangered equids for which the AZA has Species Survival Plans: Asian Wild Horses (thought by many people to be the ancestor of modern domestic horses), Grevy's Zebras, and Hartmann's Mountain Zebras. People who read this book because of their interest in horses and curiosity about rare horse breeds will learn about the captive breeding programs of zoos as well as the zoo-based conservation programs to save endangered species. My main goals are to attract rural as well as urban residents to the zoos featured in the book and to inform and interest them in wildlife conservation. And once they become zoo visitors, I believe that they will support their conservation programs.

Another goal of this book is to increase interest in the conservation of rare breeds of domestic animals, a goal supported by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust of Britain. The A.L.B.C. lists ten breeds of horses that are critically endangered in the United States (fewer than 1,000 breeding mares), four breeds that are considered rare (fewer than 2,000 breeding mares), and four breeds that need to be watched (ten or fewer breeding herds in the United States). I am currently locating the breeds that are on public exhibition in the United States and Britain (esp. in zoos) and plan to visit many of these facilities during the next year.

The Role of Zoos in This Project

In addition to providing background information on a variety of horse and donkey breeds, The Uncommon Horse will focus on horses, asses and mules in found in zoo collections. After consulting ISIS abstracts and interviewing people in about seventy zoos, I have located a variety of rare (or at least uncommon) domestic equids that are currently on display in AZA zoos (see below). Each chapter of the book will include photographs of individual animals in these collections along with information about the zoos that exhibit them. The book will highlight zoo exhibits that feature rare horses and other domestic equids. [For example, I am visiting the new Discovery Trail at the Phoenix Zoo next week in order to photograph the ten mules that make up their pack train.] And since this book will include anecdotes and stories about these animals, I am eager to contact the people who are familiar with the individuals displayed by their zoos. [They can email me at or phone me at (818) 677-4970 or 2827.] I am especially interested in locating the following breeds in AZA zoos:

Akhal-Teke Horse, a rare riding horse from Turkoman in northern Iran. Native to an arid, barren environment, the breed has been renowned as cavalry mounts and racehorses. While originally bred by tribes in Turkoman, it is now bred in Turkmenistan (former Soviet Union). The breed is thought to have descended from the extinct Turkmere horse that was presumably used by Alexander the Great. These hardy horses are similar to those used for millennia by nomads and warriors in the deserts of Central Asia. Although the Akhal-Teke and related types of horse have provided a base for the horse breeds of Asia and Europe, this breed is all that remains of the original fountainhead of horse breeds. It is often a striking golden dun with a metallic sheen. An ideal horse for the desert, it is also known for its phenomenal powers of endurance. [This breed is on display at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky - none in zoos.]

American Cream Draft Horse, an American riding and draft horse. It is the only draft breed developed in the United States, all other draft horses having been imported from western Europe. It is one of the heavier and more massive of the draft breeds known around the world and is cream colored with white mane and tail. [This breed will be on display at the Minnesota Zoo.]

American Miniature Horse, a small pony that is usually classified as a horse. The extremely small Falabella of Argentina has been used extensively in some of the bloodlines of this breed. [American Miniature Horses are on display at the Kansas City Zoo, Warner Park Zoo, Akron Zoo, Franklin Park Zoo, Happy Hollow Zoo, Hattiesburg Zoo, Jackson Zoo, St. Paul's Como Zoo, and St. Augustine Alligator Park. The Falabella is not on public display.]

Belgian Draft, a slow, heavy draft and farm horse of Belgium. The origins of this breed may be linked to the prehistoric horse whose fossil remains have been found along the river Meuse. The breed was popular in the Middle Ages and serious breeding of its ancestors was well established in Brabant and Flanders in the 10th century. The breed has a sluggish constitution and is docile and obedient. [This breed is on display at the Bergen County Zoo and the Phoenix Zoo.]

Caspian Horse, a riding pony from Iran. The breed goes back to 3000 B.C. when it was domesticated by the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia. It was thought to have become extinct in the 10th century, but was discovered in the Elburz mountains and on the shore of the Caspian Sea in 1965. It is extremely small but very horselike. Caspians resemble Arabian horses and may be a very old version of the original strain of oriental horse. [This breed is found in the Memphis Zoo.]

Clydesdale Horse, a heavy draft horse of Scotland. Originating in the 18th century, this breed was named for the River Clyde and was used as an agricultural horse and for hauling coal to Glasgow. The breed was developed from Flemish stallions that were crossed with large native ponies. It is one of the heavier and more massive of the draft breeds known around the world. Its feathering on the heels is also characteristic of the closely related Shire horse. [This breed is found at the Dakota Zoo, Busch Gardens, Sea World Florida, Brookfield Zoo, and Cosley Zoo and Museum.]

Florida Cracker Horse, riding horse of the United States. This breed is a remnant of the oldest horse breed in this country - the Spanish horse that was brought to the Americas by the conquistadors. [This breed is found at Lake Kissimmee State Park in Florida - none in zoos.]

Friesian Horse, a black draft and riding horse of Holland. One of the oldest breeds in Europe, this powerfully built horse was in much demand during the Middle Ages as a war horse. Although it is an excellent trotter and was frequently used as a carriage horse, it was in danger of becoming extinct in the early 20th century. [This breed is on display at the Kentucky Horse Park - none in zoos.]

Hackney Horse, a harness horse of Great Britain. It is descended from the old Norfolk Roadster, which itself was descended from Danish horses brought to England with the army of King Canute in the 11th century. It is characterized by it high-stepping and far-reaching action. [This breed is on display at Grant's Farm and the Kentucky Horse Park - none in zoos.]

Haflinger, a medium-heavy draft, riding or pack horse, sometimes called the "tractor of the Alps." This ancient breed can be traced back to the Middle Ages when the King of Germany sent a stallion as a wedding gift to his son in 1342. This small, general-purpose horse comes from the Alpine region of Austria and Switzerland. It is chestnut with a thick white mane and tail. [This breed is on display at The Zoo in Gulf Breeze, Florida]

Lipizzan Horse, a riding, harness and draft horse of Austria. The breed goes back to the 16th Century and became famous because of its use in the Spanish Riding School in Vienna (founded in 1729). It is a major European offshoot of the Spanish horse. The breed matures much slower than other breeds but has great longevity, reaching 35 years of age. [This breed is on display at the Kentucky Horse Park - none in zoos.]

Norwegian Fjord, a small riding and pack horse from Norway. It is an ancient breed that retains the primitive characteristics of its forebears from the Ice Age: dun coat, eel strip, and sometimes zebra markings on its legs. The Vikings used these ponies as mounts in times of war, as is shown by cave and rock paintings. All present-day heavy draft breeds in Western Europe are thought to have descended from this breed. Today it is the most widespread of the Nordic ponies and looks truly primitive because of its upright mane and dun coloration. [This breed is on display at the Queens Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, and Indianapolis Zoo.]

Shire Horse, a heavy draft horse from England. The breed is said to have descended from the Great Horse, the medieval charger used in jousting that was spoken of by medieval writers. The breed was developed in England in the 1700's and is one of the heavier and more massive of the draft breeds known around the world, pulling five times its own weight - which can be 1 1/2 tons. [This breed is on display at the Sedgewick County Zoo, Zoo Montana, and the Kentucky Horse Park.]

Spanish Mustang, a riding horse from the United States. The breed was derived from the horses brought over to the New World by the Spanish conquistadors. They are small and finely built, durable and wiry. Today the breed includes feral mustangs, Native American tribal horses, and rancher strains, all of which are similar in appearance and durability. They provide an interesting look into what the Iberian horses must have been like five hundred years ago. [This breed is on display at the Kentuck Horse Park. The Spanish Colonial Horse is on display at the Pioneer Arizona Historical Park and Amarillo Zoo displays BLM feral mustangs.]

Suffolk Horse, a heavy draft horse from Great Britain. Almost surely one of the descendants of the Great Horse, the medieval charger used in jousting, the breed dates back to 1506. In addition to drawing brewer's drays and omnibuses and being used for farm work, the Suffolk was used to pull heavy artillery in times of war. It is one of the heavier and more massive of the draft breeds known around the world and resembles the European Percheron. Its lack of feathering on the heels makes the breed more suitable for work on the land than the Shire, which is more suitable as a draft horse. Its pulling power is widely admired. The Suffolk Punch is always chestnut or sorrel. [This breed is found at the Kentucky Horse Park - none in zoos.]

Welsh Pony, a riding and light draft pony of Wales. The breed is derived from the Welsh Mountain pony, the Hackney Horse and a small thoroughbred stallion named "Merlin." [They are sometimes referred to as "Merlins" today.] It is an ideal mount for children. [This breed is found at the Woodland Park Zoo and the Virginia Zoological Park.]

Other equid breeds of interest include the American Mammoth Jackstock [Sedgewick County Zoo], spotted donkey [Memphis Zoo], Miniature Donkey [Akron Zoo, Buffalo Zoo, Franklin Park Zoo, Memphis Zoo, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Potter Park Zoo], Poitou Ass [Grant's Farm - none in zoos], Standard Donkey [Drerer Park Zoo], Mules [Phoenix Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo], and Miniature Mules [Gladys Porter Zoo].