Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Can zoos save endangered species


    Carla and I, as fans of zoos,  are particularly interested now in how successful zoos will be in trying to save some endangered species. 

    Earlier for years we had enjoyed taking our daughters and later our grandchildren to see the exciting variety of animals at exhibitions.

    When zoos first opened, mostly cages were used for animals.  This is an uncomfortable situation for the animals with little stimulation, little room to move around and little natural surroundings.

      Eventually this was recognized and some staffs were able to more often arrange environments more like the ones the animals came from. 

    For example, at the San Diego Safari Park and Busch Gardens in Florida we were the ones in cages (buses) traveling the wide open areas in which the animals also had housing.

Elephants at the St. Louis Zoo seemed to be suffering from too little space to move around in.


    The problem of space is still not completely solved.  At the St Louis Zoo although the elephant area was bigger than that of other zoos, they still seemed unhappy.  They stood swinging their trunks and slowly shifting their weight from side to side, looking sad.

    When I attempted to take a picture, two of them turned their back to me as if annoyed by my attention.  We found this same attitude of boredom among the great apes. 

    When we were in Georgia, we were fascinated by how innovative Zoo Atlanta staff members were as we watched them stimulated gorillas with activities and tasks designed to try to keep them more mentally alert, a little more challenged as they would have been in their natural setting. 

    The Zoo Atlanta has the largest collection of lowland gorillas in the U.S. and their gorilla program is one of the best--very different from how zoo animals were treated in the past here and in most zoos!

    On our more recent visits to zoos we often ran into these words :Endangered, endangered, threatened, endangered. The red letters on the identification plaques at many of the animal compounds seemed to "scream" at me.

     Extinction faces many animals today.  Addax, only 200 left in the wild, pink pigeons, grizzly and polar bears, cheetahs, many species of leopard, okapis, on and on from all parts of the world with not enough survivors left to have a viable breeding population.

    And the problems of survival are growing.   In the past 40 years it is claimed that 52% of the world's wildlife has gone extinct.  The main reasons are the loss of natural habitat, climate change and poaching.

      Many of them will no longer be around when my great grandchildren go to the zoo.  Somehow I don’t feel their being able to see them on a virtual reality disc will be quite the same thing as seeing them up close and personal.

      What is being done?  We have gained some idea from our visits to a number of zoos that are taking this decline very seriously and are undertaking programs in cooperation with other zoos to save at least some of the endangered animals.

     Some examples: In reaction to this threat the Saint Louis Zoo has become a center of conservation, education and research on endangered species. Over the past 50 years, cheetahs have become extinct in at least 13 countries.  The main causes of cheetah decline are the humans concerned about their cattle, lions and hyenas taking their kills away and lack of genetic diversity due to interbreeding. 

Cheetahs inside their man-made habitat at the Saint Louis Zoo. The zoo has a cheetah program that returns some of the animals to the wild.

    The St. Louis Zoo has had success in breeding a number of animals in captivity, and since 1974 has produced more than 30 cheetah cubs and been able to return these and some other animals to areas where they had become extinct. 

    At the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita,  the Guam Kingfisher and the Guam Rail on display are both extinct in the wild because of the Brown Tree Snake has done a complete job of removing them from Guam. One hundred and fifty Kingfishers are in breeding programs with the staffs hopes to eventually return them to Guam's forests. 

    Areas have been cleared of the Brown Tree Snake and an attempt was made to return the Guam Rail to its home territory, but feral domestic cats killed them. 

    The Kansas City Zoo along with other species is working with African wild dogs  Only about 7000 are left in Africa and they hope to breed enough of them to share with other zoos.

    These examples are small steps to correct a large problem, and not all zoo personal are hopeful.

    When we attended talks by the animal handlers of chimpanzees and great apes, at Busch Gardens in Florida the ape handler, who had lived in Africa, felt that with present conditions in Africa the only place where apes will continue to exist would be in zoos and animal parks.

    It will be interesting to see what new programs will be introduced to increase the number of animals and what steps we might take to avoid extinction of many of these threatened animals.

Endangered Scimitar Oryx at the Kansas City Zoo

Apes are being hunted to extinction both as food and for souvenirs.

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