Well, someone has to chime in on behalf of the zoological field, so here I go...
I work as an educator at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. I thought it prudent to let you ladies in on some of the amazing things my zoo has done for wild animals
Originally Posted by susumama
No species has ever been 'saved' - meaning brought back from the endangered list in the wild by the effort of zoos. Zoos do not breed animals so that they can rehabitate them into the wild. they breed them to keep them on display and trade with other zoos. The gene pool they work with is too small to repopulate a species.
This statement is blatently wrong. In addition to the California condor the (of which we have hatched nearly half of the worlds current population) we are breeding several species for reintroduction in the wild. The Giant Panda, the Scimitar horned oryx which is an exterpated (extinct in the wild) species, the Arabian Oryx (every single animal, with the exception of natural births, in the wild has come through the Wild Animal Park), the Przswalski's Wild Horse (on the 3rd wave of reintroduction), the Indian rhinoceros (currently only 1500 in the world and we breed them here, then send them to preserves in India -we don't send them to "the wild" as poaching is out of control), the Northern White Rhinoceros (there are currently 10 animals left in the world, in two zoos, as the were poached to extinction in the wild, and there is a team of vets and geneticists desperately trying to save this barely breeding population), and the one we are most famous for, the Southern White Rhinoceros. We were the first facility to figure out the optimal living conditions to make these animals comfortable enough to breed. As far as saving wild animals, three years ago we saved 11 African elephants from being culled (killing a few to save the whole population form starving) in Swaiziland. It cost us $1 million per elephant to put them on a plane and fly them to the US. The Lowry Park zoo took 4, we took 7. It costs a riduculous amount of money to care for those elephants, keeper salary alone is over $280k per year, for the rest of their lives. They were teenagers when we saved them and live around 60 years. This is a small sampling of what we are doing for endagered species. We have three facilities run by the Zoological Society of San Diego: The San Diego Zoo, The Wild Animal Park, and CRES which stands for The Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Species. It used to be called Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species, but we do so much more than that there so the name was changed. We are also working to save endangered plants through our seed bank, wich collects and stores every native plant in San Diego, home to Coastal Sage Scrub, one of the most endangered habitats in the world. Half of our 1800 acres is set aside and untouched to preserve this habitat. I work with many people who believe in the conservation work our Zoological Society is doing. We all work very hard, for very little money, in all sorts of capacites, to make the Wild Animal Park a wonderful place to visit, so people will come, and spend money, so we can spend that money on saving more animal species and their habitats. We are a non-profit organization, every penny we make above operating costs goes back to conservation efforts. The work I do is not directly saving a species. I am not a vet, or a geneticist, or a researcher, but I am an educator and it is my job to inspire people to care about what we are doing so that they will support us and we can continue our conservation efforts. If I can influence one person to make a small change in their life that leads them down the road to living mindfully and helping to conserve our planet, then I feel that day has been a success.
I am painfuly aware that not every zoo is like the one I work in, but you should know that any accredited American zoo exhibiting threatened or endangered species, and many international zoos, are following the SSP (Species Survival Plan) for every one of those species. The SSP is cooperative effort among facilites to save a species through breeding and reintroduction. All the genetic information for each individual animal in the SSP is known to ensure enough genetic diversity to sustain a population. Zoos are the reason animals are being saved from extinction. Sea World is the single largest contributor to ocean realted conservation efforts. (I don't even like Sea World for reasons all my own) People come to zoos to be entertained and we do our best to enlighten while they are there.
If you don't like zoos, then don't go. There are many other ways for you to support conservation, in your daily life or through monetary support. But before you decide zoos are evil and you will never expose your children to them, please do a little research into the work some facilities are doing. We depend on the children of mindful women like you to grow up and want to make a difference, and they have to find that inspiration somewhere. If they have never seen what we are doing, how will they be exposed to it? Check out this website http://cres.sandiegozoo.org/
and learn about the myriad of projects going on all over the world that are supported by people coming to the zoo and spending money on overpriced souveniers and nachos. If an article is written in Mothering, I would like to participate on behalf of the zoological field. Thanks for reading, I'll get off my soap box now.