Are zoos doing enough for conservation?

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ANN/THE STAR – Two years ago everyone in the city of Erfurt was thrilled when the rhinoceros Marcita gave birth to a baby bull.

The zoo was especially excited and set up a poll so the public could vote on a name for Marcita’s second cub.

Two years later, Marcita was waiting again, but the rhinoceros cow and the little bull named Tayo could not welcome the newcomer because both died suddenly within two days.

It is not known why the two rhinos died. Their deaths were a blow to zoo staff as well as an international breeding program they worked with.

Director Sabine Merz took over the reins of Erfurt Zoo at a time when there had been no offspring for seven years.

Merz, a trained veterinarian, said her staff introduced a series of measures but things ended in deep sadness.

Erfurt Zoo is part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) as well as the European Conservation Breeding Program (EEP) which includes rhinoceros breeding.

Director Sabine Merz
Knut, the first polar bear cub to survive infancy at Berlin Zoo in over 30 years. PHOTOS: DPA
Two years ago everyone in the city of Erfurt was thrilled when the rhinoceros Marcita gave birth to a baby bull

The species prioritized by EAZA are those that the zoo community believes have “a role, an importance that goes beyond zoos”, said Achim Johann, who runs the NaturZoo in Rheine, west of Germany.

The association also seeks to create a reserve population beyond those that roam in the wild, although the zoo director has said no animals should ever be captured for zoo placement these days.

Johann started a breeding program for Ethiopian blood-breasted baboons 35 years ago, at a time when there were only 55 animals, housed in six different zoos. Since then, this population has grown to 500 across Europe, including 100 baboons living in Rheine.

This makes the zoo director proud, pointing out that these animals have not been removed from their habitat for a zoo since 1972.

But concerns are growing about the pace of animal extinctions around the world. Are zoos doing enough to contribute to the research and conservation of species to justify the animals’ loss of freedom?

Critics say no, pointing out that far more animals are being brought into zoos than are released, as species continue to die out.

“Zoos always brag about their supposed contribution to species protection – but all the breeding programs mainly do is produce supplies for their exhibits,” said Yvonne Wurz, who works for the animal protection society. Peta animals.

According to Wurz, what zoos are interested in are cute little animals that attract a lot of visitors.

“We don’t really raise animals here just to attract visitors,” Johann said. “What’s wrong with people taking pleasure in young animals?” He asked.

He said animals and their offspring play an important role in the education provided by zoos.

Rheine kangaroos, for example, are a recurring subject at the zoo school, Johann said.

These real-life zoo experiences mean kids can see how animals interact with each other and what’s involved in raising a young animal.

But Wurz argues that young people can also go to the local forest and build an insect hotel or go for a walk at night to see bats.

Exotic animals don’t need to be kept in captivity to generate empathy and understanding, she said.

Meanwhile, marine biologist and animal welfare activist Robert Marc Lehmann is also trying to persuade people that taking children to zoos gives them the completely wrong idea.

Lehmann’s view is that children end up knowing less rather than more after visiting a zoo or aquarium.

Take sharks, he says, who are hunters but also creatures that maintain friendships.

“In the aquarium, the shark swims alone in circles in its basin”, which gives children an inaccurate idea of ​​what sharks are, specifies the researcher. Zoo director Johann agrees that the conditions in which the animals are kept matter enormously, to allow for maximum natural social behavior, for example.

Much has been learned over the past few years, he said. If, as at Rheine, a zoo can focus on a large herd and create a scenario “that comes very, very close to their situation in the wild, then that can be portrayed in good conscience.”

In the meantime, those involved in developing breeding programs have also learned their lessons, said Volker Homes, head of the German Association of Zoological Gardens (VdZ).

In the past, the disappearance of certain species and populations was partly due to zoos, he said. In the 1950s to 1970s, zoos would go out and catch mammals and birds, and when the animals died, they would go out and catch more.

Now, he said, “we can largely remove mammalian and bird species from zoo stocks.” Animal welfare campaigners remain unconvinced, saying polar bears, monkeys and other animals show behavioral problems even when kept in “better” conditions.

Activists demand an end to animal husbandry in zoos. They also want to see fewer zoos or a complete overhaul of the concept.

They suggest focusing on digital experiences, using virtual reality goggles, rather than having visitors see the animals live.

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