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Zoo Conservation

Or: it's bed time and I haven't written anything, and today was rather non-descript, so here's an article I wrote for the zoo newsletter earlier this year. A lot of the info came from a Power Point presentation I did for the interns this summer. I've got another article on bats, but that hasn't been published yet.

Zoos and aquariums are vitally important for wildlife conservation in a number of ways. The most well known is the breeding of endangered species. Less well known is the roles that these institutions play in funding conservation organizations and research, and educating the public about ecological topics. As conservation has been an passion of mine for many years now, I’d like to give you an overview of the difference that zoos make, and what your local zoo is doing to save species and ecosystems.

Zoo conservation can be broken up into two areas. In situ (“see-too”) conservation is preserving ecosystems and the species that live within them. Ex situ conservation is preserving animals and plants outside of their natural habitat, i.e, captive breeding. It’s this captive breeding that tends to be the most widely recognized and popular. It’s impossible to deny, baby animals are adorable. However, zoos are among the most important conservation organization leaders and funders of conservation projects. Zoos also provide scientific and education personnel and expertise, as well as captive breeding facilities, and animals to be released to the wild.

   The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) oversees two very important programs, TAGs and SSPs. TAG stands for Taxon Advisory Group, and is responsible for an entire taxa (group of related animals). For example, the Felid TAG is concerned with all the cat species, big and small. TAGs develop action plans to best serve the in situ and ex situ populations of their animals. SSPs are Species Survival Plans and serve to manage a species (usually threatened or endangered) within the AZA institutions. Each of the more than 500 SSPs develops a studbook of the population, with detailed information about each individual animal. This information is then used to make breeding and transfer recommendations, the goal of which is to ensure a healthy and genetically diverse population.

   My zoo has also partnered with the Department of Natural Resources to help the alligator snapping turtle. We receive the turtles as hatchlings, and are able to give them the best food and veterinary care. They grow faster than they would than if they were in the wild, and we hope to someday soon be able to release them back into the waterways. Select individuals are also now residing in local science classrooms, providing students with an opportunity to learn more about endangered species.

   By supporting your local zoo, you are helping to protect species and ecosystems around the world. Thank you!



March 2017

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