ARE zoos becoming obsolete? That's a question raised in the past few years by conservationists and animal rights activists as understanding and knowledge of the environment continues to expand. The question is also relevant after Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña announced his plan to close the Cebu City Zoo in Barangay Kalunasan, as he intends to include the property where it stands in a land swap with the Provincial Capitol for the informal-settlers-occupied 93-1 lots.

Conservationists and animal rights activists consider zoos as prisons for the animals and thus favor their return to their natural habitat in the wild. Zoos are supposed to teach people, especially children, about animals and conservation but new technology may be taking that responsibility away from the said facilities.

Of course, what the future holds for zoos is still difficult to countenance because of the lack of consensus on their importance. Zoos still exist in many places and, except perhaps for Cebu City (if the mayor's plan is implemented), improving, not closing those facilities, is the goal. The traditional belief that zoos serve to educate still holds.

It is in this context that Osmeña's plan is being weighed. The truth is, the city no longer places an importance on zoos unlike in the past. Even under the administration of former mayor Michael Rama, zoo maintenance and care for the animals left much to be desired. Public awareness of the zoo's existence was low. But apparently things got worse with the change in administration. That the mayor wants to include the zoo property in a lot swap shows how he values the facility.

It's good that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 did not let reports that some of the animals in the zoo have died pass and is investigating possible mismanagement by the Osmeña administration of the facility. The Cebu City Government should be reminded that as long as the zoo exists, the animals should be attended to or the City would violate provisions of the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act.

A zoo may be a “prison” but that does not mean the animals there should be treated like items in a junk yard.