Zoos Make Hard Choices To Protect Endangered Species

For those who work for habitat preservation and animal welfare, zoos don’t have the best reputation. Although many zoos go to great lengths to recreate natural habitats, they’re still just big cages that put wild animals on display for human entertainment.

However, as climate change and human development chips away at the natural habitat of many animals, zoos have become havens of preservation for species on the brink of extinction. Unfortunately, as the number of animals on the endangered species list continues to grow, zoos are being forced to make hard decisions about which animals to save.

The New York Times reports that since the 1980s, zoos have developed coordinated breeding programs that have brought dozens of animals, like the golden lion tamarin of Brazil, back from the brink. But now, with both funding and space at a premium, some species are falling by the wayside so zoos can provide better breeding environments for the most threatened animals.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that the species crying out for protection aren’t those likely to attract zoo visitors. “We are always balancing the public experiencing [sic] with conservation needs,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, president and chief executive of the St. Louis Zoo. “If you ask me why I have camels, I would say that we need something interesting for people to see at the back of the zoo in winter, and they are always outside.”

Dr. Steven L. Monfort, director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, disagrees. “Dr. Monfort wants zoos to raise more money for the conservation of animals in the wild and to make that effort as important as erecting fancier accommodations for their captive collections. Zoos, he said, should build facilities — not necessarily open to the public — that are large enough to handle whole herds of animals so that more natural reproductive behavior can occur.” But this would require a radical reorganization of the way zoos operate, and many are resistant to that kind of change. Many members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums are content to focus their efforts on conserving only a few species, and continuing to operate mainly as an entertainment attraction.

Related Reading:

110 Successes Of The Endangered Species Act

Top 10 Worst Zoos For Elephants

Atlantic Sturgeon Declared Endangered Species


Image via Thinkstock

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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

mankind does not own this planet, and we never will. we should be doing all we can to live beside these magnificent creatures. not destroying their homes and such

Mark Jones
Mark Jones3 years ago

Beth said "Although many zoos go to great lengths to recreate natural habitats, they’re still just big cages that put wild animals on display for human entertainment"
Wonderful. Maybe we should also consider that a lot of zoos are good, and that it is the people that visit that are idiots. Unless you know wildlife, work in a zoo, or work with wildlife somehow (by which I exclude all domestics), how exactly can you be the judge? Do you know more than keepers/owners/conservationists? Yes, some zoos are crap, but most are just fine. Within reason, size actually does not count, what you do with that animal in that enclosure is far more important. Enrichment is a big factor in most zoos today.

Harshiita Sharma
Harshiita Sharma3 years ago

Thanks for posting!

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Judy M.
Judy M.3 years ago

I've often said that the ideal would be to close all zoos and have a combined effort put into 4 or 5 regional zoos in the U.S. These zoos would be much larger version of perhaps the San Diego Wild Animal Park. They would be built to give the much needed space to the animals that require it such as the cats, elephants, bears, meerkats, monkeys etc. Then smaller zoos could be local housing reptiles, amphibians etc.

But that is just a dream.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle3 years ago

A conundrum. Educating the public that animals are not here for human amusement, is critical for a change in zoo policy and purpose. Perhaps that will also help to raise money so that more of ALL can be done.

Madeleine A. F.
Madeleine F.3 years ago

Shel G, it's not only overpopulation. How about poachers taking animals for parts? How about deforestation for corporate greed? How about climate change for human self-indulgence? We are a pathetic excuse for a species which even builds inhumane zoos in a veiled attempt to get excused for our pathetic behavior. And what's even more intolerable is that we call zoos a place for our future generations to get educated about other species. Educated? This would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton3 years ago

We better start doing better than we are with animals, seniors, healthcare, housing. Start doing better government!!

Susan Griffiths
Susan Griffiths3 years ago

My main concern with zoos is the quality of life for the animals living there. The best practice zoos do a pretty good job in that, sadly, the animals in these zoos probably have a better life than many of their species do who are not in zoos. However the worst practice zoos are an abomination and the middle level ones,sadly lacking.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B.3 years ago

Totally agree with Shel G