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Don’t zoos help to preserve endangered species?

Most animals confined 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, including threatened species like elephants, polar bears, gorillas, tigers and chimpanzees into the wild. Zoos aren’t breeding animals with the intent of replenishing threatened populations: Babies bring visitors through the gates, and captive breeding gives the public a false sense of security about a species’ survival. But that belief undermines support for and diverts resources from in-situ conservation efforts.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology concluded that unless animals in the wild are protected, captive breeding won’t make a difference.

Lead researcher Dr Paul Dolman said: “Our research challenges the assumption that when a species is perilously close to extinction in the wild, it is always a good idea to set up a captive breeding population … Without conservation in the wild there is no point in captive breeding.”

If wildlife as we know it is to survive, the zoo community must quickly and systematically shift focus from breeding more animals to keep in cages and tanks, to directing attention to the root causes of why animals all over the world are in peril: habitat destruction, poaching, and the exotic animal trade.

People who want to make a difference can 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, Performing Animal Welfare Society and The Wild Animal Sanctuary that rescue and care for exotic animals but don’t sell or breed them.

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