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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 8 2012: Why not do both? It seems to me that most zoos today do try and do their fare share of conservation and captive breeding, but what I want to see is zoos that are doing breeding programs that are solely based on releasing those animals back into the wild. This however is a tricky process, contact with humans and the babying of animals we see in zoos often makes it so animals can never been introduced to their natural habitat. For instance, how could you go about releasing a small pride of lions back into the wild when they have never had to actually hunt for food? I guess the logical answer to that is you would have to let them act as they would in the wild and give them something to hunt. It's like in Jurassic Park when they said "T-Rex doesn't want to be fed. T-Rex wants to hunt." So I think because of this intensive less human friendly approach zoos have little incentive to carry out such programs, which is a real shame.
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      Jun 8 2012: It's hard to strike a median of the two. Do we foster a safe environment for people to learn about the natural environment of the animals or do we simulate their natural habitat in an attempt to reintroduce them? Drawing off your example of the pride of lions, I think rallying up the large mammals that lions eat and simulating a wildlife habitat may be very difficult, if not impossible. Although it sounds nice, I wonder whether we can really have both. There is always the possibility of breeding these animals and reintroducing them as infants to a mother so they can be raised. Two problems with this is that 1) the mother doesn't take to the new offspring and they die or, 2) as Ellen mentioned above, captive breeding doesn't always support genetic diversity among a given sample of specimens. Without genetic diversity, the chances of the sample's survival is slim. The remedy to this, however, could be that we introduce them to a group that we know is genetically different from the sample. Then, in perhaps just a generation or two, a healthy population may establish.

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