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Tech by VICE

Why the “Zoos of the Future” Will Probably Be Webcams Scattered Around the World

“Adoyeuristic”? Portmanteaus aside, you’re going to want to spy on these owls.

by Becky Ferreira
Jul 5 2014, 4:20pm
 Image: Wiki Commons

Over the last few decades, zoos have been shifting their focus from entertainment hubs to conservation education centers, to keep place with animal rights awareness. But despite their best efforts, it’s always going to be a little depressing to watch an adult lion pace around in a tiny enclosure, bored out of his gourd. Seeing animals in captivity might inspire empathy for their plight in the wild, but it would be great to cut out the middleman.

That’s what the nonprofit is hoping to accomplish with its “Pearls of the Planet” series. The website has established dozens of live feeds in wildlife preserves around the world, giving the public a close-up look at animals in their native habitats.

The newest virtual exhibit to go live this week documents the unfolding drama of an Arctic snowy owl’s nest near Barrow, Alaska. Another recently released feed monitors popular brown bear hangouts in Katmai National Park. There’s also webcams of animal shelters, and a heavenly place called the Puppy Enrichment Center.  

“These live cams are about more than providing an incredible view of bears or owls during an amazing part of their season," said founder Charles Annenberg Weingarten in an AP statement. "What we are doing is building out the zoos of the future, where animals run wild and people from everywhere can feel connected to the experience.”

A brown bear at Brooks Falls. Image: Mbz1

I’m happy to report that I did indeed feel connected to a brown bear that was chilling out under Brooks Falls at six AM his time. He looked as bored as any lion in a zoo, but it was good to know that unlike the lion, he could go be bored somewhere miles away if the desire struck him.

On top of that, there’s something pleasantly creepy about spying on wild animals. The new snowy owl webcam is a great example—at the time of writing this post, the mother owl is on her nest with her back to the camera. Little does she know that people from all over the world are waiting for her to fly away so they can check out those fluffy owlets she’s got tucked away.  

But that’s the whole point: it’s great that the mother owl is oblivious to all the weirdoes (like me) watching her. It allows for people to be engaged with wildlife without locking it up, or significantly disturbing it.

The Big Brother paradigm may be ethically dubious in human social life, but it could play a key role in helping protect the social lives of wild animals.