Wild Life Conservation Term Paper

Pages: 7 (2175 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Animals

Controversy Over Zoos

Most people have fond memories of going to the zoo as children to see the animals. Younger people probably remember clean places with no barred cages and some attempt at a natural setting for the animals. Older people will remember row on row of small cages with metal bars where animals had little to do except to pace back and forth all day. Most would agree that the newer zoos, using moats rather than bars, and providing naturalized enclosures, are preferable. However, some animal activists believe that even these zoos are inherently cruel and inhumane. Zoos are caught in the middle, believing that their facilities help educate people about the dangers of letting animals go extinct, about the encroachment of civilizations on natural habitats, and the efforts that can be made to make sure that very rare animals survive in captivity even if they become extinct in the wild. At the same time they know that no zoo is a natural habitat, and that because the animals never learned to fend for themselves and have had much too much in the way of human contact, they could not release their animals into the wild if they wanted to.

Zoos, then, have the choice, of gradually going out of business as their animals die but are not replaced, or of finding more humane and natural way to house their animals, while doing whatever they can to ensure that species will survive in the wild.

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The move of zoos to be more and more proactive in their efforts to preserve natural habitats for animals is demonstrated by what used to be known as the Bronx Zoo, a world-renowned facility. In February of 1993 they added the words "wildlife conservation park" to their name. The addition reflects their desire to help preserve animals in their natural habitats (Sunquist, 1995).


Term Paper on Wild Life Conservation Assignment

It could be argued that zoos have a lot to answer for. Zoos began around 2500 B.C., when humans first captured wild animals to put on display. As Europe began its systematic exploration of the rest of the world, explorers brought back unknown animals to be added to privately-owned menageries. Europeans had never seen such animals as sloths and anteaters, and were fascinated (Sunquist, 1995). However, zoos weren't exclusive to Europe. When Cortez explored Mexico he found that Montezuma had a zoo that included not only animals such as jaguars and pumas, but even some humans: dwarfs and hunchbacks (Sunquist, 1995).

These first zoos were privately owned, but in 1765 Vienna, Austria, opened a public zoo, placing the animal cages in a garden-like setting (Sunquist, 1995). However, it wasn't until well into the 1800 that zoos spread widely. They became particularly popular during the Victorian era. While the public delighted in seeing the exotic animals, the people maintaining the zoos knew next to nothing about diet, social needs, or habitat for the animals they kept. They didn't worry about breeding; if they needed more animals, they simply removed them from the wild (Sunquist, 1995).

Starting in the 1930's, zoo planners began creating more naturalistic settings for animals. By the 1950's, veterinary medicine allowed zookeepers to treat even animals who were difficult to handle. Improved nutrition and surroundings resulted in some zoo animals breeding (Sunquist, 1995). The resulting babies were quite popular, especially since more and more, animals were displayed in more humane and attractive spaces. Nevertheless, animal-rights activists and others noted not only what they considered poor conditions but also whether it was even ethical to keep animals in captivity (Sunquist, 1995). However, at the same time the public developed a growing awareness that multiple species faced risk of extinction. Zoos were looked at as protection against this. One result was that zoos included wildlife conservation as one of their concerns, and accelerated efforts at the breeding of endangered species (Sunquist, 1995). The idea of zoos as modern-day arks saving animals from extinction was popular with most of the public (Staff writers, 1997), with the hope that some day some could be released to repopulate threatened or extinct species.


Critics, however, said that such a plan wouldn't work. They argued that only the very largest zoos, such as the Bronx Zoo, could even attempt such a program (Staff writers, 1997) and that the animals would not survive in the wild. While such criticisms made sense, in fact smaller zoos have found ways to help protect wild populations, and a number of species have benefited from such programs. Notable among these animals is the California condor and the red wolf. Experts predict that other animals will become extinct without such programs, including the black-footed ferret, the Arabian orynx, Przewalski's horse and the golden lion tamarin, as well as spcies many people may never have heard of, such as the Jamaican hutia, the Guam rail and Pere David's deer (Sunquist, 1995).

However, zoo breeding programs faces the serious challenge of inbreeding. Researchers at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., did a study of breeding records and discovered that too many animals were being bred with relatives. The gene pool wasn't large enough even at the largest zoo to avoid this, and the zoos were experiencing increased still births, birth defects, and animals with reduced resistance to diseases (Sunquist, 1995). The zoos then sent reproductive animals out to other zoos for this purpose. However, they did not always have enough animals to establish a stable gene pool, and some of the animals, such as gorillas, tigers, and rhinoceros needed so much space per animal that it didn't seem possible to provide compassionate living space for the number needed (Sunquist, 1995). Much of the protest galvanized around one mail gorilla called Timmy, who was transported from the Cleveland zoo to the Bronx Zoo for mating purpose. Courts ruled the zoos could make the move, and Timmy fathered three baby gorillas at the new zoo, but animal activists remained opposed to the action (Sunquist, 1995).

A second issue emerged from breeding animals: sometimes they ended up with surplus animals for whom it was hard to find zoo homes.

This problem was encapsulated when a female chimpanzee, Nan, became pregnant at the Los Angeles Zoo. All the female chimpanzees were on birth control, demonstrating that this method could not be relied on to avoid surplus animals. Nan already had one child, and the chimpanzee enclosure at the zoo was at its maximum capacity. But one choice, an abortion, presented multiple problems. First, there were no established procedures for an abortion on a chimpanzee. If she died, the zoo would lose a healthy female who might be needed later on for breeding. Since the species is endangered in its natural habitat, this was a legitimate concern. But there were other complications as well. Chimpanzees are highly social animals with a social hierarchy. If she was removed from her twelve companion chimpanzees, it might have resulted in fights over status. Then she would be returned to a population whose social structure might have changed, causing turmoil again. They couldn't simply allow the pregnancy to result in birth, because all other chimpanzee exhibits across the country were just as crowded as the one at the Los Angeles Zoo (Diamond, 1995).

Zoos use both birth control and separation of males and females to control reproduction, but breeding is a natural behavior for animals, and neither birth control or separation is a completely satisfactory solution. Birth control does not always work, and separation when species normally interact with both male and female introduces a new level of artificially to the zoo environment (Sunquist, 1995).

Another problem is that zoologists have limited control over breeding. The zoo may have found good placement for a male and female cub, but the mother may well have two males, or two females. If the first litter is all males, and the second litter two males and two females, you get your one male and female, but also six extra cubs. One result of this problem is that currently, about 75% of all lions in zoos in North American zoos are surplus (Sunquist, 1995).

For all these reasons, breeding cannot be the main reason to maintain zoos. While numbers of many species are diminishing in the wild, surplus animals in the zoo can rarely be added to those populations (Sunquist, 1995).


Realizing that they cannot use their zoos to repopulate the wild except in rare instances, zoo directors have begun to put added emphasis in helping to preserve the natural settings of endangered species. Some of the larger zoos have done this for years, but now smaller zoos are finding ways to support natural habitats as well. They earmark certain sales to help support natural environments. The Fort Worth Texas helps maintain a Peruvian rain forest, and the Cincinnati Zoo issues its own VISA card. Funds from this are used to support native habitats all over the world (Sunquist, 1995). Other zoos have chosen specific national parks in Africa and Indonesia.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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