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Derek Smith

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Do zoos help biodiversity conservation?

Zoos are becoming more aware of the role they can play in preventing species extinction. The California Condor, the black-footed ferret, and the Przewalski’s horse have all been saved from extinction because of zoos. Zoos also aid conservation by inspiring people to learn more about the diversity of life. However for every species saved in a zoo, hundreds if not more will perish outside of zoos. Is the role of the zoo to showcase and educate the public about the organisms they keep in captivity or should they also focus on conservation outside zoo boundaries?

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    Jun 6 2012: The beauty of zoos is their ability to educate the public about the animals, what it means to be endangered, and the necessity of conservation. I think zoos are able to demonstrate the urgency and the necessity of action in a very real and inspiring way. As for showcasing the animals, it is important that it is done in a natural way, meaning that enclosures should allow visibility by guests while reflecting the organism's natural habitat.

    However, I don't think the work ends there. Zoos should absolutely have a focus on conservation beyond their location. While some animals are able to thrive in captivity, it cannot replace the species' natural habitat. Also, with the low success rate of reintroduction, it is clear that captive breeding programs will not be enough to sustain populations in the wild. It's important to work in the field to preserve ecosystems, biodiversity, and these focal endangered species. Zoos are aware of this need, and most do have conservation and restoration programs outside of the location. For instance, the Oregon Zoo works to restore native populations of a number of species from California condors to the Oregon spotted frog.

    As for which focal area is most important, I would say they should be about equal. However, the care of the animals in captivity should always be the first priority when allocating time or funding. These organisms are fully dependent on zoos and keepers and the institution has a responsibility to meet their needs.

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