Almost half of species part of zoo breeding programmes are not endangered


Animals bred in zoos stay in zoos

Over the last week, there has been a great deal of publicity surrounding the purported importance of breeding programmes, or European Endangered Species Breeding Programmes (EEPs) as they are formally known, in European zoos. Representatives from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) have insisted that the untimely death of Marius, the 18-month old giraffe who was killed last week and fed to the lions, was necessary in order to ensure that zoos can continue to breed species under threat in the wild.

Marius, it was said, was taking up vital room that could be used by a, genetically speaking, more important animal. Despite this claim, many people picked up on a statement made by the head of the EEP for giraffes that Marius did not belong to a rare subspecies. This, in turn, raised important questions as to why a zoo has a breeding programme for animals that are not threatened in the wild and, furthermore, how they can get away with using the label “European Endangered Species Programme” when dealing with species that are not, in fact, endangered.

CAPS researchers carried out an analysis of the EEPs run by EAZA member zoos and were surprised to find that, not only were almost half of the current EEP breeding programmes for species that are not classed[1] as endangered in the wild, almost 25% of the programme were for animals that are not threatened in the wild at all. As such, the continued publicity surrounding breeding programmes as a vehicle for protecting endangered species is clearly misleading and, in some cases, demonstrably false.

Members of the public are led to believe that animals bred in zoos might one day be released to the wild and are helping to prevent the extinction of their species. The truth appears to be that animals are bred in zoos in order to ensure that zoos have animals to show the paying public for many years to come. Indeed, Zoological Society London (ZSL) suggests that zoo breeding programmes have much to do with ensuring an ongoing supply of animals for zoos but little to do with augmenting wild populations. On its website, ZSL states that: “Breeding in captivity also means that animals rarely need to be taken from wild populations, such as for zoos” whilst admitting that “most of these animals won’t be reintroduced”.

CAPS Director, Liz Tyson, said:

“Last week the conservation claims made by zoos were brought into sharp focus. Zoos have always made claims that their work saves species from extinction, but there is very little evidence to back up these assertions. To now find that the misleadingly named “endangered species programmes” are concerned with many animals not threatened in their natural habitat makes it clear that there is a fundamental disconnect between threats facing animals in the wild and the animals being bred in zoos to maintain their collections. Members of the public are being led to believe that, in supporting the zoo industry, they are supporting important conservation efforts. We are encouraging people to think again and direct their concern and support towards effective habitat conservation projects”.

CAPS and others are calling upon EAZA and individual zoos to come clean over the numbers of animals deliberately killed in their institutions each year. News reports over the weekend suggested that at least  five large mammals per EAZA zoo are killed each year.

How we can help other animals

Whilst it is too late to save poor Marius, you can still help raise awareness of his plight and that of the thousands of other animals in zoos, during Easter Weekend when we will be holding our Zoo Awareness weekend. We will release more information shortly but for now please let us know if you want to be involved and we can send you materials to help. Thank you.

With a number of major projects due for release in 2014, make sure that you are subscribed to the CAPS e-news (simply enter your email address in the box in the top right corner of this page or email to join the list) to find out how you can help to end animal suffering in captivity. Please also consider becoming a member of CAPS today.

[1] According to the classification system employed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

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