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Don’t zoos help to preserve endangered species?

Most animals housed in zoos are not endangered, nor are they being prepared for release into natural habitats. In fact, it is nearly impossible to release captive-bred animals into the wild. A 1994 report by the World Society for the Protection of Animals showed that only 1,200 zoos out of 10,000 worldwide are registered for captive breeding and wildlife conservation. Only 2 percent of the world’s threatened or endangered species are registered in breeding programs. Those that are endangered may have their plight made worse by zoos’ focus on crowd appeal. In his book The Last Panda, George Schaller, the scientific director of the Bronx Zoo, says zoos are actually contributing to the near-extinction of giant pandas by constantly shuttling the animals from one zoo to another for display. Inbreeding is also a problem among captive populations.

Ultimately, we will only save endangered species if we save their habitats and combat the reasons why people kill them—not by breeding a few in captivity. Instead of supporting zoos, we should support groups such as the International Primate Protection League, the Born Free Foundation, and other organizations that work to preserve habitats, not habits. We should also help nonprofit sanctuaries, like The Elephant Sanctuary and the Performing Animal Welfare Society, that rescue and care for exotic animals but don’t sell or breed them.

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