s long as can be remem­bered (exotic) ani­mals have been col­lected to sat­isfy man’s curios­ity for beau­ti­ful, dan­ger­ous, extra­or­di­nary, and human-​like crea­tures of the ani­mal king­dom. At first it were the world’s rulers who, using their power and author­ity, col­lected ani­mals and estab­lished menageries, either by hav­ing the ani­mals sent from occu­pied ter­ri­to­ries or by receiv­ing ani­mals as gifts in return for favours. Later, the rich and wealthy could afford to estab­lish menageries of exotic ani­mals, col­lected by eccen­tric explor­ers, for their own plea­sure. Occa­sion­ally the naïve cit­i­zens were allowed to view these col­lec­tions. For­tu­nately, this grad­u­ally changed when trav­el­ling menageries came into exis­tence and zoos were founded which allowed the com­mon peo­ple to visit their grounds. At first one day or morn­ing a week, Sun­days for instance, but soon this was increased until the ani­mals were on dis­play for every­one, year-​round.

Next, came the under­stand­ing that ani­mal wel­fare was impaired when ani­mals were housed alone in small cages, and con­tin­u­a­tion of wild catch of endan­gered species would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive in the end. This caused a shift in zoo pol­icy world­wide, know­ing that breed­ing suc­cess of endan­gered species in zoos relied on good ani­mal hus­bandry sys­tems and that diver­sity of ani­mals in the wild was at stake. Main­tain­ing the diver­sity of the ani­mal king­dom became the main dri­ver for many zoos and a require­ment to be mem­ber of a con­ti­nen­tal or global zoo organ­i­sa­tion (WAZA). There­fore, their mis­sion is focused on sus­tain­abil­ity in gen­eral, lead­ing to objec­tives con­cern­ing wel­fare and care of ani­mals, bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion, envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion and global sustainability.

This can be recog­nised in changes made in the man­age­ment of mod­ern zoos. The ani­mals are offered an envi­ron­ment which is more or less sim­i­lar to their nat­ural envi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­larly to allow devel­op­ment and expres­sion of nat­ural behav­iour. The result lead to enclo­sures that pro­vide ani­mals the oppor­tu­nity to iso­late them­selves or hide, which is nat­ural behav­iour too and makes them less vis­i­ble some­times. This requires under­stand­ing of the pub­lic that pri­mar­ily come to see the ani­mals, and there­fore needs expla­na­tion, guid­ance or a dif­fer­ent approach. After all, vis­i­tors bring in the ever so needed money, thus a decreas­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors is unde­sir­able. Care­ful bal­anc­ing between these two “ben­e­fits” is there­fore essential.

In the field of bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion, the zoo puts on a fight against the extinc­tion of species based on two pil­lars. Con­ser­va­tion of species on a quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive level, and edu­ca­tion of the pub­lic about the deple­tion of mother earth and its con­se­quences. The lat­ter is often enthu­si­as­ti­cally addressed with var­i­ous edu­ca­tional pro­grams, and infor­ma­tion points in the zoos with vol­un­teers as staff. A few decades ago peo­ple realised that con­tri­bu­tion of zoos to the con­ser­va­tion of species would only be effec­tive if inter­na­tional coop­er­a­tion between zoos could be estab­lished. The ‘law of large[r] num­bers’ plays a sig­nif­i­cant role on gene, race and species level. Inbreed­ing, and thus the appear­ance of hered­i­tary prob­lems, should be avoided as much as pos­si­ble. There­fore, tar­geted breed­ing pro­grams are devel­oped which are cen­trally man­aged and directed, and make use of the gene pool of as many zoos as pos­si­ble. In Europe this has led to the Euro­pean Endan­gered Species Pro­grammes (EEP) and the Euro­pean Stud Books (ESB). The man­age­ment thereof is appointed, per species, to a spe­cialised zoo and a ded­i­cated employee who bears the respon­si­bil­ity for this task. He or she plays an impor­tant role in the main­te­nance of the col­lec­tive species pop­u­la­tion in zoos, and pos­si­bly in the wild. For sev­eral species pro­grams are devel­oped to try and return “arti­fi­cially” (ex situ) bred ani­mals to their nat­ural habi­tat in the wild.

Finally, it is worth men­tion­ing that many rep­utable zoos fund research and imple­ment it on loca­tion for bet­ter under­stand­ing of the causes and con­se­quences of the degra­da­tion of nat­ural habi­tats on wildlife pop­u­la­tions through­out the world, with the ulti­mate goal to pre­serve the species.

The World of Zoos
My per­sonal visu­alised view about the impor­tance of Zoos and the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for their exis­tence, pro­vided they are mem­ber of the World Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquar­i­ums (WAZA) or one of the regional organ­i­sa­tions, such as EAZA and AZA, can be seen here:


There still exist a lot of mis­con­cep­tions and mis­un­der­stand­ings con­cern­ing the aspi­ra­tion of zoos and the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for their exis­tence. To achieve a bet­ter notion, the plea of Brian Bertram is highly recommended.


UN Biodiversity decade
Fight for Flight campaign

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.


about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
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