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A quiet but decisive revolution in zoos puts animal welfare ahead of the pack

Talk of Iowa, hosted by Charity Nebbe

Over the last century, the treatment of animals in captivity has dramatically changed from holding cells for fauna to environments designed with their behaviors in the wild in mind.

Since as early as ancient Egypt, humans have kept animals in menageries: stationary circuses, sensationalizing the strangeness of animals from afar. But in the last 50 years, standards and expectations by institutions like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have rocketed the field into the future, centralizing those animals and their welfare.

On this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks to an animal behaviorist about his recent work to plot the history of treatment in zoos. Then we'll hear from representatives of Iowa's own Blank Park Zoo and the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative about their work to better the material conditions of their animals.


  • Michael Renner, professor of biology, psychology and environmental science at Drake University
  • Anne Shimerdla, president and CEO of Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines
  • Jared Taglialatela, director of the Ape Cognition & Conservation Initiative in Des Moines
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Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa