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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 7 2012: I agree with Em, in that a new and very effective type of zoo would have very large exhibits. I can see it functioning as a mini ecosystem, showing the numerous ecosystem services and symbioses between species, which would be a great educational tool. Having a mini ecosystem at work would also probably make conservation of species and maintenance easier with the health of the exhibit being basically self sustaining. As for what the zoo's role should be in conservation in the first place, I think that zoos do play a very important role in preserving species as Derek mentioned, but zoos can really only do so much, usually using captive breeding to keep the species' population significant. But the population will need its natural habitat to live in once the species can sustain itself, which takes efforts of preserving whole habitats. This is usually done on a large scale by federal agencies, and it seems a bit of a stretch to expect it of a zoo.
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      Jun 7 2012: If we try to replicate the natural environment for animals that we would keep in a wildlife exhibit, this would include putting predators and their prey in the same secluded area. Zoos are largely for-profit organizations and they happen to be an industry that thrives on souvenir sales and their capacity to market as a family-friendly location for a day trip. I find it very likely that if we eradicated zoos and replaced the current model of secluded species with an integrated, ecosystem-replicate approach, then zoos will lose access to their primary visitor base. It is improbably that two parents would take their young kids to go watch a lion devour a gazelle but it is much more probably that these same parents would take their young kids to go watch a lion hang out on a big rock and watch it roar.

      Supporting entire ecosystems through wildlife preserves should be more of a conservation effort than an alternative to zoos. Both serve an important purpose in society, but the purposes that they serve are not interchangeable.
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        Jun 7 2012: I agree that not all conservation goals can be met through zoos, especially as they function now. I think there is extreme value in having traditional zoos where kids can come learn about animals and begin to develop there own sense of awe with the animal kingdom. However, this should not be at the expense of animal and ecosystem health in the wild. Though zoos may not be able to replicate natural ecosystems, all zoo actions should take into account how removal of wild animals will impact the environment. Additionally, zoos should mimic native environments as closely as possible while still maintaining a visitor-friendly atmosphere. Zoos should not replace conservation reserves, but they should learn from these areas in order to best promote the health of their animals and environments from which they come.
        • Jun 7 2012: Lauren, I completely agree with everything you are saying here. I also think it's important to remember that a large number of animals that end up in zoos, though not all, end up there because they could not be reintroduced back into the wild. Some animals have been injured and spent to long recovering in captivity, or simply require monitoring for health reasons, while others have been illegally made into pets and then abandoned. I would argue that making such animals into pets in the first place should be avoided, but once an animal is in such a situation, zoos or wildlife reserves seem like a great alternative to euthanasia.

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