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Zoo Conservation Efforts Lack Strategy and Are Too Random

A new report concludes zoos are too opportunistic and not strategic enough.

A new study published in the professional journal PloS ONE called "Zoos through the Lens of the IUCN Red List: A Global Metapopulation Approach to Support Conservation Breeding Programs" is a must read for people working in zoos and for those who want to know what zoos are up to. It is nicely summarized here in an essay by Jason Goldman titled, "IS CONSERVATION WORK IN ZOOS TOO RANDOM?"

A few snippets from Mr. Goldman's summary essay should whet your appetite for more.

"Last week in the journal PLoS ONE, the researchers noted that zoo conservation efforts are too random. By investigating which endangered or threatened species are housed at each individual ISIS zoo, they found no discernable pattern or strategy. For example, threatened species were under-represented for some taxonomic orders, and over-represented for others. While birds represent more than half of all the species held in zoos, only 8 percent of those species are classified as threatened on the IUCN red list. On the other hand, the order Dasyuromorphia, which includes Australian carnivorous mammals like the Tasmanian devil, are over-represented among mammalian orders, with zoos housing individuals from half of the world’s threatened Dasyuromorph species. Taken together, just under a quarter of all 3,955 species housed in ISIS zoos are classified as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.

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"It is perhaps easy to blame zoos for appealing to the bottom line by focusing their efforts on charismatic pandas and giraffes at the expense of making perhaps a bigger difference for few dozen endangered kinds of salamander. But as a group, members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) are the third largest financial supporters of in situ wildlife conservation, to the tune of $350 million each year. And that is only possible thanks to the throngs of visitors streaming past the ticket office to see the tigers and elephants."

We need to give each and every individual the very best life we can

While the summary essay is "pro-zoo", and the published research paper concludes, "... it is fundamental that the non-zoo conservation community acknowledges and integrates the expertise and facilities of zoos where it can be helpful", it's important to keep balance in these sorts of discussions, so for more on debates about what zoos do and do not do please click here and here, and for a discussion of captive breeding practices and "zoothanasia" (animals who are killed because they don't fit into a zoo's breeding program) please click here and see the references within all of these essays. There are many different perspectives on zoos, all of which need airing, discussion, and debate.

I found the short and long essays about the lack of conservation strategies to be very informative and they also need to be openly discussed and debated. And, of course, as long as zoos exist we need to give their residents, each and every single individual (the focus of compassionate conservation), the very best lives we can. We can do no less and this will likely mean significant changes concerning which animals are kept in zoos and how they are treated along with discussions on the future of zoos. The well being of individual animals must come first. 

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation (see also)and Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed (see also).

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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