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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 think zoos need first focus in improving their animal enclosures, education programs, and captive breeding facilities before they begin to engage in conservation work outside their boundaries.
    Immersing natural landscape into the animals' enclosures is one way that could improve the well being of the animals and enrich the visitors' experience. Another way, zoos could improve would be by changing the visitors' focus from being an animal-specific experience to helping people understand how healthy ecosystems work and are maintained, and showing interdependence. This would shift the way zoos are developed by having exhibits have a regional focus in which stories on how species are interconnected are told and conservation issues are expressed.
    • Jun 7 2012: I totally agree that zoos need a change in focus. Instead of simply displaying the animals, more in-depth information should be visible for visitors to learn details about the animals and their natural ecosystems. By making zoos a more informative place, rather than tourist traps, they would have an impact on conservation efforts. This way they would not have to change completely to a conservation-oriented operation but remain a viable business that also helps the larger context of the animal kingdom.
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        Jun 7 2012: I agree with you Nathan, the main role of zoos in conservation should be educational. I think that educating children and adults about how the animals interact with other organisms and their habitat is important but they could also put a conservational spin on all of it so that the Visitors are learning about the animals and it could also be oblivious to them what they an do individually to help.
    • Jun 7 2012: Stephanie, I think you make a great point. Many people in this conversation have acknowledged the potentials zoos have for being greater educational tools for the public than they are currently doing, but they can do so much more. I previously argued that zoos could be used to increase understanding of local animals as well as exotic ones. What I thought was most exciting about the potential use of local organisms was the protection of local plant species that would go along with mimicking their natural habitats, but I did not think about how that would better educate the public on looking at ecosystems as a whole, as you mentioned. Raising this sort of big-picture awareness in the public would hopefully draw further attention and funding towards more ecosystem based conservation efforts. This can only be achieved if zoos begin work on making zoos a better place for the inhabitants.
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      Jun 8 2012: I really like your idea of regional zoos. It would ensure that zoo animals are local, and therefore habitat for those animals is easier to maintain and could be open air rather then having them pent up in small enclosures in a building. It would also help educate people on their local and regional ecosystems and animals and how they are interconnected and how it relates to them as a person. Granted a zoo in Minnesota compared to a Zoo in Florida might not be super exciting but it would give people an idea of what they can do to turn what's outside the zoo facilities into what's inside the zoo facilities by helping to preserve and protect their natural surroundings.
      • Jun 8 2012: Although on one hand, it's a good idea to have regional zoos, with exhibits featuring native animals and ecosystems of the surrounding area, I don't think it would draw nearly as much public support. People go to the zoo to see exotic animals such as tigers and elephants, not (as there would be in an Oregon regional zoo) salmon and squirrels. Zoos such as these would definitely shift the focus from "wow, that 's so cool" to one more oriented to education. I think that parents would be far less likely to take their kids to zoos at which they couldn't see lions, resulting in way less money going into the zoo. Also, one of the main points of a zoo is to provide people who will never get to travel and see certain animals in the wild with the opportunity to see them anyway. Zoos invoke in people awe and wonder for the animals of the world, and I think this will happen to a much lesser degree if the closest zoos to people are ones which have animals they've probably already seen. I think that including a section of exhibits in a zoo showcasing the local fauna would be an effective compromise between giving people a glimpse of nature they may never get to see otherwise and educating them about their own surroundings.
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        Jun 8 2012: Regional zoos do exist, and they are plentiful. An example would be Wildlife Safari in Oregon. Although this zoo has animals that are not regionally indigenous, they do have suitable habitat for restrained animals. This zoo also has many regional species that need care and work with breeding. There are many wildlife preserves as well and local rehabilitation facilities. Here is a great resource for most, if not all, the zoos in the u.s. http://www.officialusa.com/stateguides/zoos/
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        Jun 8 2012: It should not just stop at regional zoos. Zoos should always be working with nearby nature reserves to keep those populations normal and keep breeding diversity high. Maintaining a strong relationship between reserves and zoos is key. The people who become interested from the zoo exhibits can then find programs to help at the reserve possibly.
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      Jun 8 2012: Stephanie brings up a good point about educating the public about ecosystems and the role of every species in them, instead of wholly focusing just on the animals individually. I think that educating the public more on the interactions of ecosystems and the species in them they could come to better understand how the extinction of a certain species can have a catastrophic domino effect. For a lot of people, I think that when they hear that in the near future there could be no more polar bears, it's in one ear out the other; it doesn't really affect them and they don't really care. But I think that if people could actually see how the loss of such a species can actually be extremely detrimental, it might prompt more action and understanding.
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      Jun 8 2012: I agree that zoos should change their focus to helping visitors "understand how healthy ecosystems work and are maintained." Zoos could even change their focus more on local species or habitats. Helping people understand the ecosystems that surround them could also catch more peoples attention because they will be able to make more of a connection than they can to some places that are far away. If they camp or travel around the state or area, teaching them about how they can help protect the ecosystems and why this is important would be beneficial. I think one thing that people could use lessons on today is good camping practices, such as the principles behind Leave No Trace, which would help improve the ecosystems that they camp within on a more local level.

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