TED Conversations

Derek Smith


This conversation is closed.

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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jun 7 2012: I'd like to see zoos that operate more like wildlife preserves, with huge exhibits with multiple plant and animal species in each enclosure where possible. I think this would provide for more opportunities to talk to the public about conservation than the traditional zoo habitats. It might also make it a little easier to keep multiple species alive with less funding, depending on the setup.

    The issue of funding and how to divide it among species is something I tend to get annoyed about. I have a minor vendetta against pandas because, cute as they are, we're spending billions on saving them when we could be saving probably a dozen frog or salamander species with the funding. We could save keystone species that could mean the difference in the survival of a whole ecosystem (wolves, for instance). We could do so much with the money spent on a species that can't even breed effectively.
    • thumb
      Jun 7 2012: First of all, this comment made me laugh so I had to reply. Secondly, I agree that we should have more zoos that function more like wildlife preserves. We shouldn't have to try so hard to keep individual species (like the panda) alive. If we put multiple species in a large inclosure and just let nature do what it does best, then species will preserve themselves. We just need to give them a place protected from humans and they will thrive more often than not.
      • thumb
        Jun 7 2012: Are you kidding me!? Wildlife preserves are huge and the point of them is to remove human influences on them! The point of a Zoo is to show off cute animals to you kids and make some money off of merchandise. Preserves are thousands of acres in size, remote and have existed for ages to become stabilized. You can't just construct a zoo some place with a few planted trees and add some animals and expect the species to preserve themselves. It takes so much more than that, because human reach goes beyond physical boundaries. For it to be effective would require large amounts of money and space that we as a society don't want to provide.

        Lets do a quick run down of what it takes to run a zoo, and you tell me how to find a way to preserve wildlife from human contact, while at the same time profiting off the land. A San Diego Zoo financial report can be found here:


        It took $149,567,000 just to maintain the exhibits and they spent $17,046,000 on research and conservation. They made $63,630,000 from admissions alone and $86,250,000 from auxiliary activities (auxiliary activities include retail merchandise, food and beverage, transportation operations, Wild Animal Park parking, educational activities and other similar support activities). $17,391,000 came from taxes, to maintain the San Diego Zoo for the year of 2008. The total area of the San Diego Zoo is 99 acres.

        So to propose switching to a wildlife preserve is just impossible. You can't get rid of the exhibits and throw the animals in one giant plot of land and get it to work. The ideals don't make sense! How do you display all the animals at the same time as a way to make money to run the preserve yet not make it safe nor easy to walk around and look at all the animals?

        Zoos do a lot toward conservation both through education and through research and conservation efforts, and that goal is incredibly efficient for the space that it uses.
        • thumb
          Jun 7 2012: Operate LIKE a wildlife preserve. Preserve-like is the key here. There's a huge difference between having each animal in its own little enclosure and having, say, all the ungulates from the savanna in one enclosure. Nobody is saying we should try to recreate Botswana in San Diego with a few million acres. It would be impossible and stupid. Removing human influence would, likewise, be impractical. But if you can afford the extra room to put multiple animals in one enclosure, I think it would be better to do so.

          If Busch gardens and Disney World can manage to put together exhibits with a half-dozen or so species in an enclosure that actually kind of looks like the animal's habitat, I think zoos can try to do the same. If the animals aren't going to injure or eat each other, the larger habitats might give them more room to run around and keep them healthier. They won't preserve themselves and breeding programs, feedings, and all the rest of that would still have to happen. There's no getting around that.
        • thumb
          Jun 7 2012: Near my hometown in California, there is a 400 acre wildlife preserve called Safari West which houses many of its 50-something species in an open savannah setting. Though expensive, the preserve is quite popular as they offer jeep tours that take you across the preserve to view the animals. While an operation like this could not simply replace all zoos (such as the San Diego zoo), I think they serve as a model of what more zoos can become. There can definitely be a balance of large open-air exhibits that replicate natural environments, along with smaller, more traditional ones.
      • Jun 7 2012: Hi Andrew
        I completely agree with your wisdom words .
        • thumb
          Jun 7 2012: Thanks, Sami. And I think Em, you did a good job of elaborating on what I may have been unclear on in my first comment. Zoos do have their place, but I believe letting animals run around preserves rather than tiny enclosures would also make reintroduction efforts more effective, as the animals are not entirely dependent on humans. And Rishi, you mentioned the high cost of Zoos. The only cost involved with a wildlife preserve is making sure that humans do not further damage the area you are trying to preserve.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.