Monday, May 2, 2011

Desperate measures gain ground among conservationists

Deutsche Welle: While zoos are being recognized as key centers for conservation, the impact of climate change has brought some experts to the conclusion that more radical solutions are needed to save vulnerable species. From white rhinos to Californian condors and Indian tigers, recent years have seen numerous conservation success stories. Yet the overall picture remains grim.

Despite the efforts of conservationists, the world is facing record losses of species. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), almost one in five vertebrates is deemed threatened.

Last month a team of researchers at Germany's Max Planck institute published a paper in the journal Science calling for zoos to become the planet's future arks, arguing that their captive breeding programs will be crucial if conditions in the wild continue to deteriorate. Max Planck researcher Fernando Colchero says zoos contain amazing diversity and should be capitalizing on that, with a long-term view to re-introducing the animals into the wild at a later date.

"Zoos hold a very large percentage of species that the IUCN has labeled as endangered to some degree and therefore with proper management zoos can provide a tool for conservation," Colchero told Deutsche Welle. He and his colleagues discovered that of all the animals in the world facing some degree of threat, one in seven is already held in captivity.

Although captive breeding programs exist in many zoos, the researchers say far more needs to be done to interlink these various programs to establish safer gene pools. Yet captive breeding is far from universally accepted. Some argue that the money spent on these programs could be better put towards preserving the very habitats where threatened species are found.

Currently, zoos contribute some $350 million a year to maintaining threatened species - and that includes habitats - in the wild. It makes them the third most important source of funding for conservation worldwide…

The bat cave at the Bronx Zoo, shot by Postdlf, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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