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Role of Zoos and Reserves in Animal Conservation and Breeding Programs

Role of Zoos and Reserves in Animal Conservation and Breeding Programs

            According to Rohrlich (2012), more than 100 animal species become extinct in their natural world every day. Human beings have continued to destroy animal habitats as they extend their activities into ecosystems with other species and target them for food, sports, or money. For this reasons zoos have been developed to aid conservationists in their effort to save some of the critically endangered animal species. Traditionally, the practice of keeping wild animals has been a long privilege of the nobility. For instance, more than 4 millennia ago, the leader of the Xia dynasty managed a number of menageries. Years later, rulers from the Asian communities kept crocodiles, while the Aztecs had large birds of prey confined to particular establishments within their kingdoms. Later in 1752, Franz Stephen, who was the French Habsburg king, established the Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna which is recognized as the oldest existing zoo in the world. Therefore, with the help of reliable and professional people, zoos can be the inevitable instrument for animal protection.

            The old zoos owned by royals were never developed for the protection of endangered species. However, as Rohrlich (2012) points out, today, conservation is at the centre of many efforts aimed at the establishment of zoos and animal reserves. Nowadays, habitat destruction continues to drive many species to extinction. At the same time, global warming increasingly lead to the animals affected by colder weather. At the present, the polar bear continues to suffer longer summers without  ice, which keeps seals out of their reach for months. Humans continue to directly kill animals in serious global poaching networks for ivory, skins, and hides. In Asia and Africa, rare animals end up as bush meat, while gorillas fall in the hands of marauding gangs in the blood diamond trade. One of the critically endangered species as a result of extreme levels of poaching is the rhino. Given the growing lust for aphrodisiacs over the years, rhinos survive today because of 24 hours protection by armed guards (Rohrlich, 2012). Their restriction to zoos and animal reserves where they can be bred and protected may be the only way for the species to survive the current fall in their numbers.

            Despite the positive results realized within zoos and animal reserves, criticisms have been leveled against the practice. Stakeholders have questioned whether or not having animals in zoos is the only solution left to keep them out of danger. Critics have claimed that “keeping animals in captivity is animal cruelty” (Rohrlich, 2012, p. 32). The concerns around keeping animals in zoos have been fueled by the fact that today, many animals are kept in zoos for reasons other than species protection. For example, at Dartmoor zoo, out of the 51 different mammal and bird species kept at the facility, only 7 have been classified as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. As zoo owners continue to increase the number of animals within the confines of man-made boundaries, they claim that it is safer to have them here than in their natural habitats. The owners of the Dartmoor zoo, for instance, questioned whether it was fair “to reintroduce a jaguar, because of not only the dwindling rainforest but also the impact on the people who live and farm there” (Sheen, 2010, p. 48). Surprisingly, the zoo has been responsible for the death of animals – deer were killed in the zoo due to overpopulation, and a case was reported of the wolf that got ostracized by the pack. The push by international zoo bodies to have hybrid animals killed to preserve resources for pure-breeds further exposed the cruelty of these institutions against the animals that they claim to protect, as was the case of three tiger cubs at a German zoo in 2010.

            Moreover, it has been found that the release of captive-bred species into the world is nearly impossible. There is only a slight chance that they can survive in the wild. Today, zoo owners are mainly keen on breeding animals to attract visitors and make money. Furthermore, the captive breeding has only served to give the false impression that the species’ survival has been secured (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 2017). The belief zoos are the solution to animal safety has further undermined efforts for the allocation of resources to encourage conservation efforts in-situ.

            A 2015 study carried out on the success of zoos as a rescue strategy for threatened species concluded that if efforts are not made to protect animals in their natural habitats, the practice of captive breeding cannot make any difference (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 2017). Success can only be achieved if serious efforts are directed towards the root causes of the problem which include poaching, exotic animal trade, and habitat destruction.

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