People have mixed feelings regarding zoos; do they actually help the animals or do they mainly entertain humans without focusing on issues in the natural environment? Zoos donate money to conservation efforts, but how much of this money goes to help the animals? Recent numbers show that zoos “contributed some $160 million to conservation efforts in 130 countries,” but many argue the number could be much higher. Others say zoos may help some animals, but they’re ignoring the real program, which is habitat depletion by humans. Though, any help is good and many zoos continue to improve their efforts, especially as more and more join the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), which requires these institutions to follow strict guidelines on the care and efforts made to help animals.
The biggest advocates of zoos often mention the amount of research that occurs at zoos and that they’re responsible for funding. The money zoos give to research on animals often leads to us learning much more about those creatures, which can also help us learn how to protect them and keep them healthy. Jane Goodall herself, who did extensive research on wild gorillas, views modern, accredited zoos in a positive light. This research also contributes to increasing the public’s knowledge about endangered animals and efforts to help them. Through visiting zoos and learning about the animals in them and the zoo’s research, patrons may feel more inclined to search out other ways to help endangered species. In order for zoos to be successful, this research must continue to be conducted in a responsible way that works toward reaching the goal of sustaining wild habitats.
A program conducted by zoos that gets the most attention is captive breeding. Commonly, zoos livestream the birth of new animals, especially if they’re an endangered species. Zoo attendance typical hikes up after the arrival of the newborn, because everyone wants to see a cute baby animal. Some zoos even let visitors pay to vote on the new animal’s name and then donate related funds to conservation efforts, but how many zoos actually follow this same principle? How many captive breeding births directly help sustain the species’ numbers in the wild?
Alongside captive breeding sits the re-introduction programs, where animals raised in captivity are introduced back into the wild once they’re old enough to fend for themselves. Once again, people have mixed views about this particular strategy to helping endangered animals. You have a few success stories, such as the California condor, though their introduction back into the wild faced plenty of obstacles. However, there are also many stories of how the animals couldn’t function once they were in the wild; most larger animals remain in captivity their entire lives. If done properly and combined, captive breeding and reintroduction programs can help a species, but it’s unclear how feasible the process is for the majority of endangered species.
While zoos have lots of benefits, there are downsides as well, especially when a zoo doesn’t care for its animals in the way it should. Continue doing research into different zoos and the programs they support and provide; you can decide for yourself whether or not zoos are helping endangered creatures!