The world’s species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than they should be — and humans are largely to blame. To preserve certain species, some zoos and wildlife reserves have entered into captive breeding and reintroduction programs, which, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, will help stabilize or re-establish animal populations. But there are also zoos that are breeding animals simply to keep captive populations steady, with no intent of trying to release animals into the wild.
Shipping mature animals to other zoos for breeding is actually common — Giant Pandas, for example, have been bred in captivity for decades — and in some instances, animals are even artificially inseminated to ensure a pregnancy, something that obviously wouldn’t happen in the wild. This is all done in the name of conservation, but sadly, many of these animals will end up living their lives in captivity, not their natural habitats.
And even when the intent is for them to be released into the wild, captive breeding programs cannot be effective if their natural habitat has been completely destroyed. If we want to save the world’s species from extinction, we need to focus on protecting wild populations and preserving their natural habitats.
The Reason Animals are Facing Extinction
Natural habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Rainforests, which produce 40 percent of the earth’s oxygen and are home to over half of the world’s species, will be gone within the next 100 years if deforestation continues at its current rate.
Deforestation in Indonesia has resulted in a loss of half of Sumatran forests, placing animals like orangutans, Sumatran tigers and rhinos in danger of extinction. The production of palm oil is one of the contributors to this habitat loss, as well as logging for paper production.
Animal agriculture is yet another contributor to habitat destruction with 26 percent of the world’s land being cleared for grazing cattle. Land loss to due human expansion and urbanization is also forcing wildlife into populated areas, causing human-animal conflict. In agricultural areas around the world, species viewed as a threat to livestock have often been killed at a rate that rapidly thinned their populations.
Do Captive Breeding Programs Work?
Zoos have been releasing some of their captive-bred animals back into the wild in hopes of increasing populations, but it isn’t necessarily effective. A 2008 study of captive-bred carnivores found that most died after being returned to the wild, due to a combination of human-related and natural causes. The study also found that captive-bred animals were more susceptible to disease and more likely to die of starvation than those born in the wild.
Born Free, an international organization working to protect species, says that “relying on captive populations lulls us into a false sense of security drawing attention away from threats to wild populations and habitats which, if not protected, could be destroyed leaving no viable location for return.”
So habitats are being destroyed, captive breeding programs aren’t always effective and the animals, if and when they are released, don’t have the best survival rates. While some of these attempts at sustaining populations might have the best of intentions, is it really what’s best for the animals in the end?
Animals Deserve Better
Douglas Perkins/Wikimedia Commons
Life in captivity will never compare to life in the wild, no matter how much effort a zoo might make to replicate natural habitats or provide enrichment activities for animals. There is nothing natural about being confined or having people stare at you through a glass wall. In fact, situations like this are often quite stressful for animals.
Animals in captivity can suffer from a condition called zoochosis, where they exhibit repetitive, stress-induced behaviors like pacing, self-mutilation, and over-grooming. These behaviors are often seen in videos posted on social media by zoo visitors who mistakenly believe the animals are “dancing” or doing something “cute.” So while having animals in zoos gives current and future generations the opportunity to see a variety of magnificent creatures up close, is it really the ethical thing to do?
We can certainly do better for animals. By making more sustainable choices when we shop, we can do our part in helping to reduce deforestation and keep animals in their homes. And doing this is easier than you might think. Avoiding packed foods that contain palm oil is one way to start. Eating less meat can also have an impact on not only the rate of deforestation but the pollution of our soil and water sources. And you can support organizations that are working to preserve natural habitats, ensuring all animals have a place to live.
Lead image source: JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons