The recent Living Planet Index report authored by the World Wildlife Fund and the London Zoological Society paints a disturbing picture: globally, on average, vertebrate species populations have declined 52% since 1970. Over-exploitation, habitat destruction and alteration, global climate change, and other pressures have created conditions that scientists now suggest signal a sixth mass extinction episode for our planet. If dire steps are not taken, then the time is not far that we would lose our planet’s species.
The existence of zoos is since 2500 BCE in Egypt where records indicate giraffes, bears, dolphins, and other animals were kept by aristocrats. The oldest still operating zoo in the world, Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna, opened in 1752 which shows that keeping animals is as old as human civilization.
Controversy has historically surrounded zoos, whether endangered animals should be kept in zoos or not. I would be discussing about the advantages of keeping endangered species in zoos. How it is useful for these species and how it is beneficiary for mankind to maintain balance in the ecosystem.
Zoos educate the public about animals and conservation efforts.
As of April 2019, there are 236 accredited zoos in the United States. The zoos attract over 181 million visitors annually, which is more than the approximately 131 million yearly spectators of NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB combined. According to a study of 26 zoos worldwide published in conservation biology, visitors to zoos increased their knowledge of biodiversity and specific individual actions to protect biodiversity.
Robin Ganzert, PhD, President and CEO of American Humane stated, “zoos provide people especially impressionable children with the opportunity to see these remarkable animals up close. People won’t protect what they don’t love, and they can’t love what they don’t know. So having these animals at zoo is beneficiary for both mankind and animals as people would be aware about these wonderful creatures that are coexisting with us while they would be safe from predators which would be helpful in increasing their count. (procon.org)
Education is another positive feature of zoos. Many children and adults in cities can only see wild animals in TV or the Internet. Zoos offer them the unique experience of contemplating real animals. They can smell them; see how they move and listen their sounds. This is a much more vivid and enriching experience than the one you can get through a screen.
For research purpose:
Zoos are key for research. Being able to observe and study animals is crucial if we want to contribute to help them and repair the ecosystems. They also help reduce human-animal conflicts and better understand the needs and psychology of animals. Zoos serve as laboratories to learn more about how to fight animal diseases and develop effective animal anaesthetics and other treatments to help more animals in the future.
Another pro of zoos is their role in animal reproduction. Zoos study animal breeding and thanks to them many wild animals in captivity can reproduce. This is particularly important in the case of endangered species. Due to the low density of the population of some animals in their natural ecosystems they struggle to find partners. Some populations in the wild are weakened by endogamy too. In zoos vets and biologist help to prevent inbreeding. (Pros and cons of zoos: Should animals be kept in zoos?)
Species survival Plans
The Bronx Zoo in New York, for example, led one of the earliest captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, helping to save the American bison from fading into oblivion more than a century ago. Many zoos went on to develop Species Survival Plans beginning in the 1980s, which coordinate breeding and population management programs for threatened and endangered animals among zoos worldwide. The goal is to create healthy and genetically diverse animal populations of these species across the zoo community, an effort that can ultimately aid the conservation of the species in the wild. (Minteer)
Zoos and Captive Breeding Programs
By 1982, the California Condor was all but extinct, with only 25 to 27 condors living in the U.S. By 1987, all 27 condors were put into a captive breeding program in hopes of keeping them from going extinct. The birds were distributed between two zoos in southern California: The San Diego Zoo and the Los Angeles Zoo. This program was later expanded to include other zoos on the west coast.
The San Diego Zoo built a special aviary enclosure that gave the birds room to spread their wings, fly and mate. The captive breeding program had been so successful that by 1993, some of these massive birds were reintroduced back into the wild in Baja California, California and Arizona. In the Big Sur area of California in 2006, biologists documented a mating pair with a nest in a redwood tree cavity, the first to be spotted in the wild since release. The captive and wild population of these birds has grown from 23 to over 400 in 2015 due to the success of this program. Zoos have also helped thwart the extinction of other creatures, such as the black ferret. (Brenner)
Zoos save endangered species by bringing them into a safe environment, where they are protected from poachers, habitat loss, starvation, and predators. Some of the successful examples are
The Arabian Oryx was hunted to extinction in the wild. However, from just a handful of animals in captivity the species was brought back from the brink thanks the conservation efforts of Phoenix Zoo and others.
Through this incredible work, there are now over 1,000 of these magnificent animals back in the wild and thousands more looked after by zoos worldwide.
Przewalski’s Horse is the only truly wild horse species left in the world. It comes from the grasslands of Central Asia but was once declared completely extinct in the wild.
But Przewalski’s Horse has made an incredible comeback. Zoos have been working together to create a stable population across the world and now the Przewalski’s Horse is being slowly reintroduced to its natural habitat.
The California Condor was once on the brink of extinction — there were only 27 left. The birds were taken into captivity to begin a breeding program to help save the California Condor from extinction.
Now there are hundreds of these huge birds in the Californian skies thanks to the dedicated conservation efforts of San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo.
These tiny black and yellow Corroboree Frog frogs only lives in a small sub-alpine area of Australia and have been almost wiped out due to a particularly nasty fungus disease.
But over the past few years, Zoos like Taronga Zoo in Sydney have been breeding a population of Corroboree Frogs behind the scenes which are now being returned to the wild in specially designed disease-free habitats. Australia alone has seen the extinction of six frog species in recent decades. Thanks to these zoos, the Corroboree Frog won’t be one of them.
The Eastern Bongo is a large antelope that lives in a dense and remote region of Kenya. It’s an elusive creature and was one of the last large mammal species to be discovered.
But it’s become even more elusive since poaching and habitat loss reduced the wild population to shockingly low numbers. There are now perhaps more Eastern Bongos in captivity than in the wild. Across the world, zoos are working together on a Bongo breeding program to maintain a viable population that will act as a safety net for this species survival.
This brightly coloured Regent Honeyeater from Australia relies on the nectar of a particular species of eucalypt tree for food. Unfortunately, deforestation has meant the loss of this important food source and now it’s estimated that there may be fewer than 1,500 Regent Honeyeaters in Australia today.
Thanks to dedicated breeding programs in Australian zoos and tree-planting initiatives, the future of the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater is looking more secure.
Other successful examples include Panamanian Golden Frog, Bellinger River Turtle, Tamarin and many others. (10 endangered species saved from extinctions by zoo)
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