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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: I just read a great piece in the NY Times about this the other day: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/28/science/zoos-bitter-choice-to-save-some-species-letting-others-die.html?_r=1

    "As the number of species at risk of extinction soars, zoos are increasingly being called upon to rescue and sustain animals, and not just for marquee breeds like pandas and rhinos but also for all manner of mammals, frogs, birds and insects whose populations are suddenly crashing.

    To conserve animals effectively, however, zoo officials have concluded that they must winnow species in their care and devote more resources to a chosen few. The result is that zookeepers, usually animal lovers to the core, are increasingly being pressed into making cold calculations about which animals are the most crucial to save. Some days, the burden feels less like Noah building an ark and more like Schindler making a list."

    Yikes.
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      Jun 7 2012: That is scary and sad that we must choose between animals to save. I wonder how they are going about choosing. I think it would be interesting if different zoos focused on different animals. Lets say birds and insects where another one has frogs and some mammals. Maybe if they split up who takes what species more species could be saved instead of each zoo solely focusing on a few species.
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        Jun 7 2012: I like that idea of differentiation. I think people generally have an idea of "Zoo" in their minds as a place where they can see all sorts of exotic creatures, lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), but focusing on just one heritage could be even more exotic. Imagine if you could see all the bizarre convolutions of hummingbirds side by side! I actually don't think that it would be any less of a draw to be more specific, since focusing would "magnify" the uniqueness of the zoo. For every species, anyway, there is a "poster child," whether for creepy-crawly worms it is an annelid that glows or for frogs its the lightning-daubed dart frog. Specialization is where it's at!

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