Predominant hubs of zoos

July 3, 2016 - 17:55

A wide array of elements are involved in long-term protection of biodiversity. If the last remaining populations of a rare and endangered species are too small to maintain, if they are declining despite conservation efforts, or if the remaining individuals are found outside protected areas, then in situ or on site preservation may not be effective.

Ex situ facilities for animal preservation include zoos, game farms, and aquariums, as well as the facilities of private breeders are an important conservation strategy to protect endangered species and educate the public. In this article some benefits from zoo experience are represented.

The return of the Ark concept

With the rise of the animal welfare movement and increasing concern for the environment in general, and the loss of biodiversity in particular, zoos have moved the focus of their activity towards conservation. The potential role of zoos in wildlife conservation has been recognized for at least 60 years and since the 1960s zoos have considered the conservation of endangered and threatened species as one of their most important functions. But what zoos actually bring to the table for the wildlife conservation?

Andrew E. Bowkett who works for whitley Conservation Trust in Conservation Biology Journal (Volume 23, June 2009) wrote: “Here I focus on the extent to which the importance of captive breeding and reintroduction as a conservation strategy is reflected in planning and policy, particularly by the world zoos and aquaria. Zoos and aquaria were to play a key role in conservation by maintaining populations of threatened species ex-situ. These institutions were seen as pre-adapted to the role by their long tradition of keeping, breeding, and transporting animals. It is likely that the only way to prevent species in circumstances such as remaining small populations of a rare and endangered species, declining despite conservation efforts, or remaining individuals outside protected areas from going extinct is to maintain individuals in artificial conditions under human supervision.”

Tied closely to the name of zoo

In the minds of many people, the term of zoo (Zoological Garden) has a strong association with animals being kept in poor conditions in old-fashioned iron cages. Some famous zoos around the world have adopted new names in an attempt to disassociate themselves from these outdated notions and to emphasis their role in wildlife conservation and environmental education. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park and Marwell Wildlife are two famous sample of these. But many famous zoos show no sign of following this trend.

Data about Iran’s zoos are so patchy, it is noted that considerable evidences about function of zoos are always underestimated in our country. But public interest to wildlife and zoos have seen a spectacular increase in Iran.

All relevant associations

The term of zoo is an abbreviation of zoological gardens and was probably first used as an abbreviation for the Clifton Zoo in Bristol, England, in 1847. Zoos refer to all permanent establishments where animals of wild species are kept for exhibition to the public. This definition encompasses traditional zoos, drive-through safari parks, aviaries, snake parks, insect collections, aquariums, birds of prey centers, and all manner of other animal collections which are open to the public, but this definition excludes pet shops, circuses and laboratories that keep animals.

Much less known

Richard B. Primack addressed to the impressive number of animals of the zoos around the world: “Zoo, along with affiliated universities, government wildlife departments, and conservation organizations, presently maintain over 500,000 terrestrial vertebrates individuals, representing almost 8000 species and subspecies of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.”

It seems that era of old-fashioned zoos in Iran still is not over, only pioneer zoos such as Tehran zoo directed more of their efforts to conservation terms especially in the past 2 years. Most of zoos in Iran e.g. Mashhad Zoo, Khorasan Razavi province, Babolsar Zoo, Mazandaran province, and Shiraz zoo, Fras province, couldn’t make any balance between maintaining animals and obey standard rules.

In a country such as Iran with all magnificent biodiversity, zoos must effectively work together to conserve some of the endangered species.

In the United State alone, zoos cost about $1 billion per year to run. Some of Iran’s zoos traditionally focus on maintaining animals because these species are of greatest interest to the general public, whose entrance fees fund zoo budgets. It is quite important that zoos are commercial facilities where the principal business is holding wildlife in captivity for exhibition purposes but here are also other key notes.

Zoos in Iran must play their important role for wildlife conservation. Tehran Zoo as mentioned before, is one of the pioneer zoos in Iran. It provides great care and protection to animals because actually brings knowledge and experience in animal care and veterinary medicine. It has been building facilities and developing the technology necessary for maintaining species such as Caracal, Euracian lynx, Persian leopard, African leopard, African lions, Brown bear, Marbled Polecat, Striped hyaena, wolf, Persian fallow deer, Red deer, Jebeer Gazelle, wild Sheep, Persian wild ass or Onager, etc.

The importance of captive breeding

Currently, only around 10% of the terrestrial vertebrates kept in zoos were collected in the wild, and this number is declining as zoos gain more experience in captive breeding. Richard B. Primack mentioned in Conservation Biology: “The success of captive breeding programs has been enhanced by efforts to collect and disseminate the knowledge and experience acquired by the world’s zoos. Some management methods come directly from human and veterinary medicine. Zoos often use the latest methods of veterinary medicine to establish healthy breeding colonies of endangered species.”

Some Iranians still condemn zoos hinge on ignorance about animal’s welfare. Zoo’s past life is integrated in pure human entertainment but today researchers set out canvas opinions on how zoos should behave in no-win situations. Do you remember Caspian Tiger (Panthera tigris virgate)? Three generation ago, the tiger ranged from the Caucasus and Turkey through the southern Caspian region of northern Iran to the forested areas along the Oxus River in Afghanistan, the shores of the Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash, Sinkiang, the Altai and the Irtish Basin. The subspecies of virgate intermediate between the Siberian and Indian tigers, both are now present in Tehran Zoo. What was the destination of Caspian Tiger?

Caspian tiger disappeared from Iran at about 1953, although some reports of sighting declared just few years later. Why there is no live specimen of Caspian Tiger even in the zoos? Why Pere David’s deer survived only in parks and zoos and Caspian tiger didn’t?

Did Caspian Tiger have the chance of survival in zoos? Sure, if there were standard zoos in Iran or if there was any undertaker who could arranged sending animals to standard zoos. Przewalski’s Wild Horse is another similar case, there now appear to be no PrZewalski’s horses surviving in the wild, but fortunately there are some in captivity. The horses were never domesticated but kept as a rarity in Zoos.

Zoos in Europe, North America, and former Soviet Union collaborated constructively to manage a cooperative breeding program that aimed to share animals and to avoid mating between close relatives. About 200 horses are covered by this program, and purebred Przewalski’s horse are now well established in captivity just because of efforts of zoos.

All of the above cases are significant successful experiences that confirmed the great role of zoos in conservation terms. As we notice to the footage of these events, we understand why zoos can effectively work together to conserve endangered animals and that’s why we need more standard zoos in our country.

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