A tiger paces in its cage at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park zoo. A PinP photo.
A study just published in the journal, Facets, begins positively enough. It acknowledges that members of Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA - the private, non-profit charity representing thirty such institutions), do try to be leaders in researching this field and, that they do take part in programs aimed at species survival by breeding animals in captivity, then re-introducing them into the wild.
And on its own website, CAZA claims, "We are behind some of the most remarkable conservation success stories. This includes, bringing species such as the Black Footed Ferret and the Vancouver Island Marmot back from the brink of extinction,” for example.
However, in some key areas, the researchers (a team of two biologists from Laurentian University in Sudbury) suggest, CAZA and its members are falling short.
Zoos and aquariums could be "important resources in mitigating biodiversity loss. And the credibility of zoos as conservation organizations can only be enhanced by the production of peer-reviewed science in this field."
Yet, while CAZA members are turning out more such research (still significantly less than their US counterparts and most in "zoo-centric" journals), most are not on the topic of biodiversity conservation at all, but on veterinary science, instead.
"Few studies have explored their contribution to biodiversity conservation efforts and research productivity in general."
Increasing collaboration with academic institutions would be one way for CAZA to overcome that shortcoming. So, “It is puzzling that collaborations between these groups are rare. Academics can use the unique environment zoos and aquariums provide for studying species, whereas academic research based on field observations may increase the success of reintroduction efforts led by zoos and aquariums.”
This new research comes to light against the backdrop of extinctions hanging over tens of thousands of Earth's wild species, “ due to widespread degradation of global ecosystems caused by humans.”
By: Larry Powell