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Derek Smith

TEDCRED 50+

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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 believe the importance of zoos to be regional. Growing up in the Midwest, conservation and 'green' anything isn't culturally as big of a deal as it is here on the West Coast (where I am now). So, zoos in my home state play a huge role in exposing people to wildlife. As a child growing up, there just weren't as many wildlife preserves or refuges around. So we went to the zoo for school field trips to learn about nature. Though, if I had been raised in Oregon, I could imagine my exposure to the great outdoors would be much different. So, in some places zoos can act as a powerful learning tool. However, that seems to me where their effectiveness ends. Any role they have in saving species seems more to come from their expertise and funding rather than from them being a zoo in and of itself.
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      Jun 7 2012: I agree with the belief that zoos are an effective learning tool, especially in places where wildlife preserves aren't available; however, the effectiveness continues beyond just a simple zoo visit. The ability to view majestic animals up close and personal is a very powerful image that breeds passion. Learning from textbooks about the importance of polar bears is great, but learning that same knowledge while watching polar bears play in an exhibit is breathtaking, and resonates in the soul. We talk about how we should spread awareness, and zoos do a great job of that, thus helping conservation on the personal level and through funding.
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      Jun 7 2012: Growing up in a suburb of Portland, the zoo was one of my only windows of exposure to wildlife. Sure, there were family car camping trips, but realistically, unless you're part of an outdoorsy family growing up you can easily miss out on learning about natural environments, even right here in Oregon.

      To me, zoos are an excellent place to begin the conversation about nature conservation and environmentalism with a child. The reason being that a visit to a zoo is a hands on learning experience. Growing up in a family of educators, I have witnessed that there is way too much sitting around doing busywork, and frankly, babysitting in our school system, so any opportunity to get kids outside of the classroom setting and excited about asking questions is a going to be beneficial.

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