Straight from the Horse's Mouth, Zoos Are a Force for Conservation

By Smith, Barbara | The Scotsman, March 19, 2019 | Go to article overview

Straight from the Horse's Mouth, Zoos Are a Force for Conservation


Smith, Barbara, The Scotsman


Thomas Gillespie was the founder of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and a true visionary. As we celebrate our 110th anniversary this week, it is tempting to wonder whether even he could have imagined the impact RZSS would one day have in protecting vulnerable and endangered wildlife around the world. A lawyer with a passion for zoology, Thomas opened Edinburgh Zoo in 1913 with support from the city council, four years after the Society was formed. Millions of visitors have since passed through our doors, captivated by the incredible species in our care and learning about the ever-increasing challenges they face in the wild, principally from climate change, habitat loss, pollution, disease and hunting.

Today, there is another dimension to our work and a story we must tell - the role of modern zoos in protecting wildlife in their natural environments. Progressive, reputable zoos have become a powerful force for conservation, with their reach and influence extending far beyond their physical boundaries.

RZSS, which welcomed Highland Wildlife Park into its family in the 1980s, is a member of BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. BIAZA members contributed more than £24 million to conservation across the globe in 2017, supporting more than 800 projects in the field.

Many BIAZA members are charities, including RZSS. Every visit to Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park helps to fund pioneering conservation research and science around the world. We work to protect chimpanzees in Uganda, giant armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal, the Pallas' cat in Central Asia, partula snails in Tahiti, Northern rockhopper penguins in the South Atlantic Ocean and many other species - including, of course, giant pandas.

We also focus on native species here in Scotland, where we are at the forefront of efforts to save the pine hoverfly, reinforce wild populations of the pond mud snail and reintroduce the beaver, which was hunted to extinction more than 400 years ago. The Scottish Government's recent announcement that beavers will have legal protection from 1 May was a major milestone for RZSS after many years of work with our partners, including the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The return of beavers as part of a natural ecosystem will set an example both within Scotland and internationally for species reintroduction and conservation best practice. …

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