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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: Zoos should definitely be heavily involved in conservation both in the zoo and outside. It is hard to believe that zoos can maintain their populations over the long term through strictly in-house breeding, so it is in the zoos' best interest to maintain wild populations to maintain their stocks. In addition, educating the public about animals and sparking interest in conservation. I believe that this mission may have an even greater impact than any conservation work zoos can do on their own, as public interest and awareness about biodiversity issues can divert much more resources than any zoo can.
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      Jun 7 2012: I agree with you, Billy. I think that in order to preserve and enhance genetic diversity, that breeding outside of just the in-house stock is necessary for zoos. Zoos are an excellent starting point for a larger conversation about conservation and biodiversity preservation and they do an excellent job serving this purpose. In most zoos, there are many opportunities for visitors to donate to protect specific species or to general funds that conserve habitats. I think that this is the most effective ways that zoos can help incorporate their visitors into actively helping the types of animals that they came to see. Additionally, since the primary populations that visit zoos are families, and often families with young children, zoos are a fantastic way to get children interested in animals and in biodiversity conservation from a very young, impressionable age.
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      Jun 8 2012: I agree with your point that zoo's need a large natural population source to ensure proper genetic diversity of the organism's they hold. If zoo's don't play an active role in preserving species outside of their boundaries, the health of the captive animals will decline as well due to reduced genetic diversity. Zoos are a great platform for gaining public interest in conservation since the experience of seeing unique animals up close is pretty powerful.
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        Jun 8 2012: This is a good point. If zoos are to play a role in actively conserving species by breeding them in captivity for eventual release, it is vital that the genetic diversity is maintained in the process. I'm not sure how much this is monitored when it comes to captive breeding, but if these animals are to be released into the wild again then they must have the genetic diversity that they would have if they were breeding in the wild. Otherwise, captive breeding could end up doing more harm than good.

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