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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: A zoo is a zoo, I wouldn't say they should "focus" on conservation outside zoo boundaries. I have no problem with that being the focus of conservation organizations.

    However, I do think that there should be some sort of zoo-oid "conservation easement" program--that is, the mandate that zoos are managed sustainably, and if necessary extraction of some zoo profits to go to environmental organizations that can focus on these extra-zoo issues while the zoos themselves worry about their in-zoo habitat. There should be a thorough analysis of all zoos and these should be graded as health inspectors do for restaurants. People should know whether this is an "A" or a "B" farm.

    In line with the topic of a conversation easement-esque brokerage, zoos should need to equate species capture with species freedom. In other words, if they keep one elephant in a zoo, they must do something that demonstrably helps to keep one elephant free overseas. (This duty can be handed off to a dedicated conservation group.) Similar to an emissions tax in which companies are penalized for every iota of greenhouse gas they emit over the allowable threshold, why not have zoos be penalized when they subvert strict guidelines, the UN's "Universal Rights of Zoo Creatures"?
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      Jun 7 2012: I agree that the focus on conservation should be outside the realm of zoos. There are much more effective measure that can be taken to promote biodiversity such as conservation of biodiversity hotspots. There is so little money going toward this field already we need to be careful where each dollar goes.
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      Jun 7 2012: I like your idea of managing zoos sustainably and to implement some sort of grading scale. There is definitely a large variance in the quality of confinement from one zoo to the next, and higher standards of operation need to be set. But zoos have a unique opportunity to engage in both ex situ and in situ conservation programs where other organizations may not posses the ability. They have acquired a lot of our current knowledge on small population biology, which is critical for aiding in the conservation of endangered species. Zoos also have the ability to financially support other conservation efforts, including habitat restoration and protection, which is a great way of indirectly changing their focus from entertainment to conservation. However, I do not think that zoos should merely retain their role as being a zoo. Exhibiting threatened and endangered species in confinement does nothing to preserve global biodiversity, although it may bring more awareness to the issue at hand. As a "modern" zoo, they need to take a more active role in conservation, whether that be through captive breeding programs with the goal of reintroduction or through financial contributions towards programs directly focused on preserving biodiversity.
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      Jun 8 2012: As far are zoo-managment, I'm pretty sure zoos are strictly managed, one can't just randomly open a zoo or buy a bunch of endangered animals to put up for show. This is why a great deal of zoos are associated with governments, for example, Oregon Zoo. There are many partnerships that zoos are involved in that may not be realized when going to the zoo to gawk at the animals. Zoos are able to have very sophisticated breeding programs that work with other zoos to ensure successful breeding, without genetically deleterious affects. I think zoos play a great part in the conservation of endangered species that is not seen by all. While I agree that it is important to conserve all species, to put more requirements on zoos may be detrimental to their progress.
    • Jun 8 2012: I agree; I don't think that zoos should be required to focus too much on conserving animals in the wild. If that were the main function of a zoo, it would be an environmentalist organization, not a collection of animals. Zoos definitely must work to keep the populations of the animals they have in captivity healthy and genetically diverse, but the primary function of a zoo is to promote interactions between humans and animals and leave people with a connection to the animal kingdom.
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      Jun 8 2012: I disagree completely. Mainly because to NOT invest in conservation efforts is a terrible business decision by any zoo. This is one of those instances where economic and ecological interests are congruent. From the economic perspective of the zoo, its a winning marketing decision. Zoo = exotic animals = efforts to save those animals. Having people associate strong conservation efforts with your zoo is a great thing, and since those efforts are preserving biodiversity, its a win-win. Zoos are certainly not the best at conservation, but any effort is a useful effort.
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      Jun 8 2012: Many zoos are in organizations that have guidelines to join them. So unless your zoo fits all the criteria they cannot join them. One of the most predominant ones here in the is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Not being an certified AZA zoo or in another organization does raise questions into the zoos politics and the animal living conditions. Many of the prominent zoos (and aquariums) in the U.S. are aligned with the AZA.

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