As if you needed yet another reason to be wary of zoos, a new report from the Aspinall Foundation by conservation geneticist Dr. Paul O’Donoghue found that the pedigrees of many zoo animals in the United Kingdom have become contaminated by hybridization with different but related species.
So, what exactly does this mean?
“It means the animals alive now are all related, mostly sharing more DNA than if they were cousins,” said O’Donoghue to the Sunday Times.
We’ve effectively been inbreeding some animals because we just “assumed” they were probably not related. Now, that doesn’t sound very scientific, does it?
According to the International Business Times, “Hundreds of breeding programs are operated by European zoos for rare and endangered species. These programs were mostly founded between 20 to 30 years ago using small populations of animals that were assumed to be unrelated. However, modern DNA testing has revealed these assumptions to be false, raising doubts about the value of these conservation schemes.”
Dr. O’Donoghue’s last statement is the most damning to the intended goal of zoo conservation: “Now we can test their descendants, it is clear that people who visit zoos to see iconic animals are often looking at hybrids which have zero conservation value.”
If only more countries could follow Costa Rica’s lead and stop keeping animals in zoos — it’s not necessary, and it’s really not all that educational – or in this case, “conservational.” Instead, check out a wild animal sanctuary that’s actually doing good work and improving the lives of animals. We promise, you won’t be sorry you swapped zoos for sanctuaries.
Image Source: Mass Travel/Flickr