TED Conversations

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: The conversation below regarding the function of zoos as a form of "wildlife preserve-like" has a lot of really good points. Making zoo's similar to preserves is a good idea from a biologist/ecological standpoint because then we can work to create habitats that are function more as soft reintroduction zones. However, I think something that is being lost in this conversation is the fact that the purpose of a zoo is to educate the community and get kids excited about animals. In a preserve-like setting it is very likely that the amount of animal viewing would be minimal (because this generally how animals in the natural habitat are seen). One of the main goals for helping slow down our impact on the ecosystems of the world was education. Zoos largely contribute to that education. By allowing kids to see different animals and gain an understanding of the animals of world, they inherit an appreciation for them. Maybe what zoo's should do to increase their ability to help in the conservation process is simply provide for more interactive learning as individuals pass through each exhibit. In addition, they should emphasize the importance of the species that are being affected by humans most and explain this impact that we have on those animals when they are in the wild.
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      Jun 7 2012: I agree with Molly. We cannot say that zoo's are merely there for the animals sake, in the name of preservation. They are businesses just like anything else. If there was a greater emphasis on how the animals got into the zoo and the changes that are happening to their native habitats due to humans, then they would be more beneficial to the animals themselves. I think too often zoo-goers only think about how the zoos are helping the individual animals in the facility instead of what needs to be done to help their populations in general.
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      Jun 8 2012: I also agree with Molly's viewpoint on zoos. I just recently read 'The Life of Pi', in which the main character is the son of a zookeeper. It is impossible to read this young Indian boys perspective on zoos and feel they are a bad thing. The close proximity to which zoos bring animals to humans inspires an awe that would otherwise be lost on a majority of people. Many citizens of urban cities are not exposed to nature except in a limited context, so bringing the animals to a place where they can see them up close and admire their natural beauty is an essential service that connects these urbanites to the environment. This allows them to develop feelings for animals, and potentially enables them to care about their impact on the environment.

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