Zoos Lead the Fight against Animals' Extinction

By Bonner, Jeffrey P | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Zoos Lead the Fight against Animals' Extinction


Bonner, Jeffrey P, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The recent death of the gorilla shot at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into his enclosure first prompted unfair criticism of the child's parents. Then pundits piled on by second-guessing the zoo's decision to kill the gorilla to save the child.

That led to yet-another spate of zoo-bashing with no fewer than a dozen mainstream media outlets questioning whether zoos should exist at all.

It was as if the writers of these articles (none of them scientists or conservationists) were in a time warp that took them back decades when the focus of zoos was purely entertainment, rather than education, and when zoo animals were often in cramped cages and fed without much thought to nutrition.

Today, at the St. Louis Zoo, we have a Ph.D. nutritionist working hard to match the diets of animals in our care to those of their kin in the wild. Veterinarians, who spend years studying zoo medicine, are on call to handle every situation, and more importantly, to offer active preventive medicine and disease surveillance programs. Animals at our zoo and at other accredited zoos live in spacious habitats where highly trained animal care professionals work to keep them mentally and physically energized through a range of enrichment.

What we have learned in zoos has also been used to treat and benefit animals in the wild. We are transferring research findings from our reproductive management experts, endocrinologists, veterinarians and other scientists to the field to help address the health needs of endangered species.

In short, zoos have become science-based organizations that actively partner with other conservation organizations in the war against extinction.

Yet, nowhere in the recent media coverage is there any suggestion on what to do to stop what many have dubbed the 6th extinction the massive loss of species across the globe.

About 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals are now threatened with extinction, and fully half of the world's primates our closest relatives teeter on the edge of existence. We face the loss of one in eight of all bird species. Overall, the extinction rate has increased a hundred-fold over the last century, and today we estimate that over 18,000 species face oblivion.

The reason so many species are disappearing is that half of the world's original forests are gone, and those that remain are being cut down at a rate that is 10 times higher than the possible level of re-growth. …

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