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 8 2012: I believe it is the zoo's responsibility to focus on both conservation outside zoo boundaries and educating the public. One way they ensure conservation among endangered species is by allowing them to breed in captivity. Once these species reach sufficient levels, they can be reintroduced into their natural habitats. Also, zoos allow scientists to perform more research, specifically the optimal conditions and environment for a particular species. This information can then be disseminated to educate the public.
    • Jun 8 2012: I agree that zoos can serve this function. Often times the problem is that zoos preserve a gene pool that is too small to keep the species alive or reinvigorate it. This is a possible area of technique and management that needs to be reexamined so that zoos can act as conservation sites successfully.
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      Jun 8 2012: I agree with you on both fronts, but don't a lot of zoos' breeding programs just lead to the animals staying in captivity instead of being released?
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      Jun 8 2012: I agree that zoos should focus on both educating the public and conserving the areas outside the zoo. I think if zoos set up more ways that people can see the conservation related in simple terms with lots of pictures and interactive displays they will understand this more and maybe help too. The research that zoos do has helped them improve habitats for animals they house, adapting to things that they have found are necessary in the wild for these animals. I do think that zoos can provide captive breeding while also educating the public about the species and why the breeding is necessary. In this way they could show things we buy that could be causing the animal's home to be destroyed or things we are doing that are destroying the animals native habitat.
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      Jun 8 2012: Genetic degradation is a major concern in many small breeding populations. Dealing with inbreeding depression is one of the many challenges zoos face. I know that some zoos will actually share animals for breeding purposes to preserve genetic diversity and reduce the chance of recessive lethal alleles in their populations. Breeding programs are still relatively new and many of the animals studied (mammals mostly) have low reproductive rates and so far it has been hard to study these effects carefully.

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