Are zoos good for wildlife conservation?
To many Zoos are a part of family quality time; parents have had a busy week at work and the kids have had a busy week at school, come the weekend, last week was a family movie week and this week will be a trip to the zoo, allowing you the chance to see animals you most likely would never have a chance to see in their natural habitat (unless you’re loaded). To others however, zoos are viewed with scepticism; they are considered as equivalent to a prison: whilst to some, they are an opportunity to assist wildlife conversation – I’m torn between the two.
I’m a frequent zoo visitor as they offer me the opportunity to photograph animals I would most likely never encounter in the wild as most predators were wiped before our time in our neck of the woods. One of the things that really bug me about zoos is the lack of space for animals that require that depend on it. I remember on my visit to one of the zoos watching this particular leopard pacing up and down from one corner of the fence to another, all the while its head was glued to the fence as if it was looking for a way out; it did this the whole time I was watching it; I suspect it was looking for a way out; repetitive pacing behaviour is known to be associated with poor psychological well being.
Scientists have found that animals that roam far and wide tend to do worst in zoos. A comparison was given between a polar bear that can roam an area larger than the size of greater London, but whilst in zoos they only have a million times less space. The same can be said for African Elephants; in the wild they tend to cross between countries on their migratory routes and yet in a zoo they are confined in a space less than a football pitch. In these examples, I’m talking about the good zoos in countries with good regulations; other countries, these majestic animals have been shown to fare so much worse.
Another concern is the reported high infant mortality amongst that roam long distances in the wild. The scientists have called on zoos to either make radical changes of phase out certain species which are particularly affected the most by the constraints of zoos.
I believe (my own opinion) that a lot of people associate wild with bliss; however, this is far from the truth; a lot of animals from cradle to the grave are at the mercy of all sorts of nasty surprises; parasites, infanticide, untreated illnesses, starvation etc; most of these nasty surprises are avoided in (the good well maintained) zoos. The most important (to me) reason why I support good zoos is conservation; many species are facing the threat of extinction mostly from climate change, habitat loss, excessive hunting, unexpected outbreaks of diseases etc. Animals that are kept in good zoos are protected from the fate facing their cousins in the wild. Other species still exist in the wild only because of conservation efforts in zoos throughout the world, like the ones below.
Arabian Oryx – This animal was hunted to near extinction, however, this beautiful animal was revived from the brink only from a handful animals in captivity; thanks to Phoenix Zoo and others.
Golden Lion Tamarin- Numbers fell in Brazil due to loss of habitat from mining, logging and poaching; however, like the Arabian Orynx, conservation efforts have saved this beautiful little animal from extinction, with over a third of wild golden lion tamarins coming from those raised in captivity.
Amur Leopard – They are only a few Amur leopards left in the wild, mostly due to habitat loss by human development and poaching; however, a breeding program in captivity started in the 60s has seen a gradual increase in their numbers.
Still torn as to whether zoos are ethical or not; however, the fact that they have been and still are responsible for saving animals from extinction, they are okay in my book; yes, there are issues with zoos; I would advocate for improving upon those issues affecting zoos (and the wild as well). Only when issues impacting upon the welfare of animals in the wild have been rectified would I say, they might not be a need for zoos; until then, I would be buying my yearly ticket.
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