It's a parental rite of passage -- bring the kids to the local zoo so they can experience wildlife first hand.  The numbers are big.  175 million Americans make a trip to  a zoo or aquarium every year.  

But as we all know now, something went horribly wrong at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday, when a three year old somehow got into the gorilla exhibit.  After Harambe, the 400lbs. male gorilla, started  manhandling the boy, authorities shot the gorilla. 

That action set off a number of debates.  Was the zoo safe, should the gorilla have been tranquilized, was the mother to blame?  Now another bigger question is taking center stage.  Should we even have zoos to begin with?

To their credit many zoos have developed "immersive exhibits," to try and give the animals and the spectators a more realistic experience.  But despite these upgrades, many critics think that the whole concept of wild animals kept in captivity for the enjoyment of human animals should be scrubbed.

For the pros and cons, John Linehanof Zoo New England (@ZooNewEngland), the organization that runs Franklin Park and the Stone Zoo, and Azzedine Downes (@AzzedineTDownes) , the president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (@action4ifaw) , based in Yarmouth weigh in on the issue.  

Linehan finds that zoos are more relevant today than they have ever been before. At a time where concerns for the environment are growing, a number of people can learn the importance of various animals by having the experience of seeing them at the zoo. He worked with young people who were compelled to get more involved with learning about chimps through trips to Uganda, and participating in the climate talks in Paris.

Downes emphasizes that most of the zoos around the world are not good zoos. Having a good zoo is the key to making sure that animals are kept in a healthy environment. In order to have a good sense of conservation, zoos need proper funding. Most zoos lack the financial resources to support conservation. The concept of having conservation for the sake of maintaining a population of certain kind of animal is no longer popular, but instead of eliminating zoos altogether, there should be just a few (good ones).

According Downes, zoos have come a long way from feeding elephants peanuts. (Franklin Park Zoo in Boston was the first zoo he visited as a child.) A great way for zoos to continue to bring people close to animals would be to integrate more technologies into the experience, including virtual reality. 

Linehan finds that very few people have the opportunity to travel the world and see exotic animals in the wild. 

“…the reality is that this world and what they’ve (animals) got left is ever shrinking, and human pressure on these animals are decimating populations.”-John Linehan 

Linehan adds that zoo animals are not domesticated. They could not be domesticated, and they teach that to visitors at the zoo. Through visiting the zoo people are taught to respect the nature of the animal in its existing habitat. 

Downes uses the Asian elephant as an example. The Asian elephant, whether placed in zoos or used in religious rituals, is tamed. No matter how they are being used, they are still wild and dangerous animals. Although in a zoo environment with dozens of human spectators watching them, good zoos try to enhance the environmental experience of the animal to avoid stress and discomfort.

“We have a very interactive program. Where everyday new things are introduced to these animals to challenge them, to give them fun, to get them to exhibit natural behaviors…to ensure they don’t get bored everyday,” Linehan said. His zookeepers also keep calendars of how the animals are reacting and what they do. 

Ideally, if half the world was reserved for animals, zoos wouldn’t be needed. Until then, the goal is to increase the amount of good zoos.