Zoos are Important Because They Save Endangered Animals
Zoos are Important Because They Save Endangered Animals
Over time, zoos across the world were mainly viewed as simple places of attraction. Based on this perception, little attention has been paid to consider the role that zoos assume in the facets of conservation and animal research. In spite of this fixed perspective, it is impossible to ignore the responsibilities that zoos have taken up especially in the protection of animals from negative events such as extinction. According to Conway (2007), the sole objective of zoos underlies in the protection, care, and breeding of different animal species. Consequently, these vicinities have been utilized in saving and fostering animals near extinction, such as the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) in Indonesia (Conway, 2007). Further conservation efforts have been made to breed such animals in captivity in order to avert the damaging effect of poaching and deforestation of forestlands especially in such countries. Nonetheless, with the role that these structures play in animal conservation, it is still evident that considerable invaluable information has been collected by zoos regarding reproduction and behavior among animals.
In relation to the responsibility of zoos in the conservation of animals, genetic science has made significant progression due to the information collected. Advances in genetic science have enabled specialists to preserve animals that would be extinct (Williams & Hoffman, 2009). However, even with the efforts made by zoologists and their respective structures in the conservation of endangered species, the extinction of certain species is inevitable. For instance, efforts to save nearly extinct animals such as the Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in Central Africa and the Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) in South and Central Asia have been depressing (Fa, Funk & O’Connell, 2011). Part of the major reason for this is due to the captive breeding practices performed by zoos, which are not wholly effective for specific animals such as the Hilsa Fish (Tenualosa ilisha) (Fa, Funk & O’Connell, 2011). In relation to the widespread decrease of the giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), the consistent shuttling of such animals from a zoo to another for purpose of display has limited the preservation of these creatures (Fa, Funk & O’Connell, 2011).
Despite the insufficiency of zoos to protect certain species, several organizations have been established in order to save these endangered animals from complete extinction. Such organizations are part of a global cause for animal preservation. Interestingly, zoos play a major role in these efforts. Some of the companies involved in this respective aim comprise the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) (Conway, 2007). In a common objective to protect certain animals from extinction, these organizations have introduced programs that focus considerably on breeding among the concerned animals. These programs constitute EAZA’s European Endangered Species Program (EEP) and the Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program by AZA (Conway, 2007). In addition to this, these programs also concentrate on the preservation of animals and biodiversity.
With efforts made by these organizations to enforce captive breeding, it is impossible to negate the obstacles that currently challenge this preservation strategy. For instance, captive breeding processes for migratory birds such as the Whooping Crane (Grus Americana) and fish may be difficult due to their high chances of migration and habitat-based inconsistency (Williams & Hoffman, 2009). For large endangered water-based mammals such as the La Plata Dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei), captive breeding may be hard due to the intricacies involved in satisfying the biological necessities for these species while in captivity (Griffin, Blumstein & Evans, 2000). In addition, breeding techniques have elicited certain concerns among specialists based on the genetic impact they may impose on the animals. Because of low species populations, the endangered animals may inbreed significantly (Williams & Hoffman, 2009). This may lead to genetic mutations that may amplify the probability of inherited diseases among future species. With such complexities in mind, captive breeding programs have exuded considerable success in their preservation efforts (Williams & Hoffman, 2009). For instance, species such as the black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) and the Guam Rail (Gallirallus owstoni) have been reintroduced in parts of United States and the Northern Mariana Islands respectively due to the efficacy of the respective schemes (Laidlow, 2001).
In spite of the success that captive breeding has exhibited with respect to the cases of the Ferret and the Guam Rail, it is still evident that certain animals, despite being nurtured in captivity, had trouble while adjusting to their new environments in the wild (Griffin, Blumstein & Evans, 2000). The Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) is a fair illustration of this issue. Due to the lack of foraging and climbing skills in the wild, the mothers of the Golden Lion Tamarin commonly die prior to the bearing of offspring (Kierulff et al. 2012). In addition, inbreeding among these animals has imposed further complexity in their adaptation to the wild. This is because of the divisive effects that related efforts such as fragmentation pose on the populations of these endangered species (Kierulff et al. 2012). Moreover, the acquired genetic mutations within the enclosed setting also influenced difficulty in adapting to the wild for these species. As such, more Golden Lion Tamarins continue to decrease in the wild (Kierulff et al. 2012). However, in measurement of reproduction, the conservation of tamarins has been successful in spite of the issues of reintroduction (Kierulff et al. 2012).
Hence, respecting the case of the tamarins, it is evident that inbreeding undermines the long term of survivability of specific animal species. As such, Laidlow (2001) advocates for the establishment of a diverse gene pool for a respective species. Currently, zoos are combining their breeding efforts with intensive conservation approaches in order to improve gene pools within particular animals. Additionally, animal studies carried out in the zoos have shown that animal behavior can change considerably in captivity (Laidlow, 2001). This outcome of the research also shows the profound effects that such behavioral changes can cause on an animal’s ability to be reintroduced into the wild in future. Therefore, in light of such discoveries, zoos can be capable of saving endangered species by providing novel strategies, such as training in foraging and hunting, which would be beneficial in reintroduction efforts for endangered species into the wild (Griffin, Blumstein & Evans, 2000).
However, if captive breeding in zoos is not combined with various preservation programs such as pre-release instructional training, numerous species may become extinct due to the issues raised previously. Nonetheless, certain species such as the American buffalo (Bison bison) and the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) comprise good examples of animals that have been successfully reintroduced (Laidlow, 2001). Animals previously preserved in captivity, researched, and nurtured in zoos were later returned to their natural habitats. As an outcome, such species have been able to repopulate completely, if there were no species left in the wild, or to reinforce existing populations (Laidlow, 2001). Thus, with the success of these species, similar programs are currently in place for the Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), and other animals (Laidlow, 2001).
One of the most well known examples involves the captive breeding of a giant Panda. Zoos coordinate this program with great care since pandas are considerably difficult to reproduce in captivity (Laidlow, 2001). Additionally, other important aspects of captive breeding are not evident to the public. For instance, commercial demand for animal skins is high for birds of prey such as the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) (Conway, 2007). Notably, international efforts may be the last chance to save such species as well as others such as the rhinoceros and the jungle elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) which often fall as poaching victims (Conway, 2007).
Overall, while there are individuals who oppose the idea of animals kept in captivity, it is clear that without the efforts made by most of the zoos in the world, a large number of endangered species would be extinct. Moreover, zoological parks are to do their best in order to ensure high standards of captivity that may actually assist animals in significant breeding and reproduction. If not, it would be impossible to study animal behavior closely, discover, and even provide medical treatment when required. It is necessary to assert that without zoos, the struggle to save and protect wild animals will fail.
Conway, W. (2007). Entering the 21st century. In A. Zimmerman, M. Hatchwell, L. Dickie & C. West (Eds.), Zoos in the 21st century: Catalysts for conservation? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fa, J., Funk, S., & O’Connell, D. (2011). Zoo conservation biology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Griffin, A. S., Blumstein, D. T., & Evans, C. S. (2000). Training captive-bred or translocated animals to avoid predators. Conservation Biology, 14(5), 1317-1326.
Kierulff, M. C. M., Ruiz-Miranda, C. R., Oliveira, P. P., Beck, B. B., Martins, A., Dietz, J. M., Rambaldi, D. M., & Baker, A. J. (2012). The Golden lion tamarin Leontopithecus rosalia: A conservation success story. International Zoo Yearbook, 46(1), 36-45.
Laidlaw, R. (2001). Reintroduction of captive-bred animals to the wild: Is the modern ark float? In B. Jordan (Ed.), Who cares for planet earth? The con in conservation (pp. 64-80). Brighton, UK: The Alpha Press.
Williams, S. E., & Hoffman, E. A. (2009). Minimizing genetic adaptation in captive breeding programs: A review. Biological Conservation, 142(11), 2388-2400.