The American Humane Association’s desperate attempt to defend zoos (“Zoos and aquariums have a large role in improving the lot of animals,” Jan. 28 commentary) is grossly misleading. American Humane has come to be known as an “entrenched industry insider” that comes to the aid of industries that harm animals, and its defense of zoos seems tailor-made to solidify that reputation.
The examples of zoos helping species through breeding and reintroduction are not “countless,” as American Humane asserts. Quite the opposite — of 167 attempts to reintroduce captive-bred animals to the wild, fewer than 10 percent have succeeded. And the vast majority of animals in zoos are bred with full knowledge that there will never even be an attempt to release them to the wild.
Given the extremely limited success of captive-breeding programs, experts urge an emphasis on species and habitat preservation in the wild. Instead zoos direct inordinate resources on confining animals. According to one study, it costs 50 times as much to keep African elephants and black rhinos in zoos than to manage and protect the same number of animals in the wild. An analysis of American zoos’ spending on conservation found that the average zoo spent only 0.1 percent of its budget on conservation.
Nor is there much support for the assertion that zoos “help protect wild animals as centers of public education.” Study after study, including numerous studies by the zoo industry, have failed to document any conservation value derived from captive animal displays. Increasingly, studies are even showing that such displays can undermine conservation efforts.
If zoos and aquariums want to “have a large role in improving the lot of animals,” they’d be wise to shift their focus away from spending millions to breed and confine animals that will never step foot in the wild and to instead direct more resources toward in situ conservation and providing homes for the many dangerous wild animals in need discarded by the exotic “pet” industry.