Focus on habitat preservation
Contrary to claims in a recent opinion piece in The Detroit News (“Zoos are becoming endangered species,” Aug. 24), in-situ conservation plays a miniscule part of what most zoos do.
One study, for example, calculates the conservation investment for North American zoos at less than 5 percent of their income. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology concluded that unless animals in the wild are protected, captive breeding won’t make a difference. Its lead researcher was unequivocal, saying, “Without conservation in the wild there is no point in captive breeding.”
A study published in the journal Plos One (dedicated to original research from all disciplines within science) showed that only 18 percent of land animals in zoo collections are threatened or endangered. Of the nearly 4,000 species in captivity, only 691 are threatened or endangered.
Returning captive-bred animals to their natural homelands is difficult and costly, and most zoos don’t even attempt it. Most programs to reintroduce captive-bred species to the wild have failed and no captive-breeding of endangered big carnivores (such as tigers, lions, or leopards) has ever resulted in the release of those animals back into the wild.
If wildlife is to survive, the primary focus must shift from collections of caged animals to habitat preservation. The large sums of money spent on captive-breeding programs would be better used towards efforts to reduce the factors contributing to the decline of the species in the wild: habitat destruction, poaching, and the exotic animal trade. If those inherent causes aren’t addressed and remedied, all the breeding programs in the world won’t be enough to save animals at risk.