Here’s an interesting article and video from the New York Times on the changing role of modern zoos. The video offers a behind-the-scenes look into biosecure rooms in the Bronx Zoo’s amphibian propagation center, where Tanzanian spray toads are being bred for future reintroduction into the wild. The article details the cold calculus needed to decide which endangered animals to keep and which to fade out, such as the lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus).
To conserve animals effectively, however, zoo officials have concluded that they must winnow species in their care and devote more resources to a chosen few. The result is that zookeepers, usually animal lovers to the core, are increasingly being pressed into making cold calculations about which animals are the most crucial to save. Some days, the burden feels less like Noah building an ark and more like Schindler making a list.
The lemurs at this zoo are being saved in part because of a well-financed program to rescue rare fauna of the island nation of Madagascar. By contrast, although St. Louis has kept lion-tailed macaques since 1958, other zoos started getting rid of them in the 1990s because they can carry a form of herpes deadly to people. With only an aging population left in captivity in the United States, a species advisory group to North American zoos is expected to put the animals on a phaseout list soon.
If there are criticisms, they are that zoos are not transforming their mission quickly enough from entertainment to conservation.
Photo of lion-tailed macaque infant by Flickr user gentle lemur.