There are a lot of misconceptions about zoos and I feel like a lot of people view zoos in a poor light. A lot of “animal lovers” swear off zoos and aquariums as they hear horror stories of some zoos who are mistreating their animals that they have. Yes, this is wrong and zoos that mishandle their animals should definitely be shut down, or penalized to some degree, but – not all zoos are bad. I used to think the same thing, too, until I did research on why exactly places like zoos are beneficial for animal species. Here are some reasons I found as to why zoos play a crucial part in conservation.
- According to the IUCN, there are currently 39 animals extinct in the world. These species would be completely wiped out had it not been for captive populations in which now reside in zoos.
- Zoos set up populations for species whose survival in the wild looks unlikely. Zoos have captive groups of animals who have incredible genetics for their type of species, so that worse case scenario, they can assist in the reintroduction of the species into the wild if the original population were to ever go extinct. One example of this is the Amur Leopard. There are 35 to 65 left in the wild, close to extinction, however there are breeding programs implemented in different zoos with over 200 of the species surviving in captivity.
- Zoos can re-intodruce animals into the habitat. Many have argued that the reason zoos are not beneficial is because they only have few times where re-introduction of a species actually happens, however, this is most likely not the zoos fault. Most of the time, it’s either due to a lack of environment for the species or the actual process through the government, in which zoo experts say take a long time to implement and put into place.
3. Reintroduction. It is often argued that zoos are bad because so few reintroduction actually happen. I would argue that it’s not the zoos at fault, it’s that a reintroduction can’t occur if the reason they went extinct in the first place hasn’t been resolved. Amongst the most well known and successful reintroductions are:
4. In 2014, 700 million people visited zoos worldwide. OK, not all zoos are good at engagement. Indeed not all zoos are good full stop. But, surely that number of visits had to create some sort of connection with the natural world that might not have occurred otherwise.
5. Zoos are a living museum. What we learn about wild animals in captivity can help us manage and conserve them in the wild. From animal behaviour, to reproductive rates to dietary requirements.
6. Zoos raise money for conservation efforts. It’s difficult to engage people with conservation efforts taking place half a world away, believe me, I know. But by enabling people to experience wildlife first hand, and using that as a vessel in which to tell a story, we can I hope increase participation in international conservation efforts.
7. Helping respond to emergencies. In the last 20 years, an estimated 168 amphibian species have gone extinct. In addition to habitat loss, chytrid fungus has emerged as a deadly threat to worldwide amphibian populations. Responding to threats such as this, especially in small or medium sized vertebrates is surely one of the greatest uses of zoos around the world. In fact, many zoos have set up specialist amphibiancenters and are pioneering treatment and breeding programmes.
8. They remind us that we can succeed. Conservation is full of bad news stories, yet on many occasions I have stood peering through glass at a species that shouldn’t exist. At WWT Barnes on the outskirts of London I have stood on a wet Winter day watching Nene, which was once the world’s rarest goose (now, incidentally, successfully reintroduced). In Antsohihy, Madagascar I have peered through the mesh fence at the world’s only population of Malagasy pochard, a duck thought to be extinct for years and then rediscovered. In the UK I’ve stood while a Bali Myna flew over my head, a bird numbering less than 100 in the wild (but thankfully more than 1000 in captivity). For me at least, zoos remind us that conservation does work, we just need more of it.