Zoos: What Are They Great For?

More than the years, and in particular as a child, handful of things would get me far more excited than a trip to the zoo. Dallas petting zoo like animals, biology was constantly my favourite subject at college and getting close to so many rare and exotic creatures by no means failed to get the hairs on the back of my neck standing up on end. I’ve been a typical visitor to London Zoo my complete life and I’ve observed it evolve from becoming a bit of an embarrassment and it’s close to closure in 1991 to a far far more proper and animal friendly attraction. But there have been negative experiences as well and I have a couple of reservations about zoos and the part they play in conservation. As well often have I noticed larger mammals pacing the same patch of ground in an apparently endless and numbing cycle even when they have what is normally accepted to be a large enclosure. This is to say absolutely nothing of the difficulty in having a picture displaying some natural behaviour with no a load of mesh or plate glass finding in the way a close to impossibility.

One particular specifically damaging zoological practical experience occurred when on a family holiday in France, sometime in the early 90s. The circumstances there had been really poor. There had been significant animals kept in pretty little cages and sanitation was significantly less than adequate. Even as a youngster I could inform that this was not how items were supposed to be. There was a period when London Zoo was starting to get like that with its animals not in the very best condition and its finances in a far worse 1. But even now that they have successfully turned themselves about it still does not look rather right that there are lions, tigers and gorillas in a smaller corner of Regent’s Park. Posters on the underground network at present boast that the zoo has ‘London’s most significant penguin colony’. How quite a few penguin colonies does London have?! Should it have any at all? With the greatest will in the planet can any inner city sanctuary genuinely claim to have adequate space to present a suitable atmosphere for such animals?

As an aside, to bring things back to photography for a moment, there have been an increasing quantity of controversies about working with captive animals in your operate. By all indicates take photos of captive animals but you have to own up when you do so and not try to palm it off as a shot you got in the field. 1 unique scandal was when the winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year for 2009 was stripped of his title and prize income for using what turned out to be a semi-tame wolf in his now iconic shot. I was specifically saddened by this as it is genuinely a brilliant picture, he just ought to have come clean and said what it genuinely was from the beginning.


It can be argued that zoos like Chester, Paignton, Whippsnade and Colchester and safari parks like Longleat and Woburn Abbey have the sort of acreage to be in a position to deliver an enclosure that can give the animals what they require – space to roam, space to hide, space to interact with other people of their type or, indeed, to be solitary if that is additional proper. But then there is nonetheless the query: are we keeping these animals right here for our own entertainment or is there a tangible benefit to them?

There are many higher profile and mainstream organisations that argue zoos, in a excellent world, would be closed and conservation efforts focused on animals in the wild. The Born Free of charge Foundation argues that zoo-primarily based schemes that aim to breed animals in captivity and then release them into the wild are all but a myth. They say that there have only ever been three animals effectively reintroduced to the wild by British zoos: the partula snail, the British Field Cricket and Przewalski’s horse. Not a single primate or big cat has ever made it to the wild from a British zoo. They go on to say that captive breeding programmes only exist to supply zoos themselves with a lot more animals and have little or nothing at all to do with growing numbers in the wild.

1 of Britain’s most renowned conservationists, Chris Packham, requires a slightly distinctive approach. He is a good believer in zoos, indeed his girlfriend runs one particular, but he believes they should concentrate their efforts on animals that they essentially stand a likelihood of helping. He argues that pandas, tigers and other mega-fauna are also far gone to be saved. On this front I’m inclined to agree in my day job I am a geneticist and it’s widely acknowledged that you need at least five,000 individuals to be interbreeding to guarantee the long term survival of a substantial mammalian species significantly less than 2,000 and you’re in really serious trouble. There are less than 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the wild and there is not a singular breeding population of tigers that significant either, so even if there wasn’t another tree cut down or animal hunted they only have a slow decline into illness and ill health to look forward to. It’s not a full impossibility although cheetahs, my private favourite, are so genetically similar that you can graft skin from one animal to yet another devoid of worry of it getting rejected. This can only be the case if at some point in their past there were only a incredibly small number of genetically comparable animals left. Indeed, hunting at the human genome has shown that at some point in pre-history there have been only 20,000 of us left – but then possibly we’re a unique case.

Packham goes on to say that these big, fluffy animals are emblematic of the struggle to conserve the atmosphere and folks are a lot more probably to participate if there is one thing cute and fluffy to be saved. But the vast majority of the millions spent on conservation goes on just a tiny number of species. He argues that the money would be greater spent protecting the atmosphere they live in rather than any person species spending those millions on purchasing up tracts of rain forest would be a superior program that way you shield the environment as a whole and the full variety of biodiversity within it.

On the other hand, there is a extremely high chance that within my lifetime a lot of of the bigger mammals we all know and love will be extinct in the wild and if we do not have a breeding population in captivity then they merely cease to exist and this, for lots of, is reason sufficient to validate the existence of zoos. It is merely not enough to have a couple of battered old examples in the Natural History Museum and as fantastic as David Attenborough’s documentaries are they can not compete with seeing an animal in the flesh. It may be the case that we can’t teach a captive born animal how to survive on it’s own in the wild, but if we do not at least have a operating copy of the design and style then how will we ever make it work effectively? Zoos also work to ensure that the populations they have are outbred and preserve their hybrid vigour by swapping animals for breeding internationally so if we did ever figure out how to train captive bred animals for life in the wild then we have a stock of animals ready to go. But give me 1 year and a million pounds and I could have that all arranged for you in 1 freezer’s worth of little tubes.

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