Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


The zoo, a per­fect hunt­ing ground for poachers

pub­lished 15 April 2017 | mod­i­fied 15 April 2017

A shock­ing, but not sur­pris­ing acci­dent was reported a few weeks ago. A rhi­noc­eros at Thoiry Zoo (Château et parc de Thoiry) was shot and its horn was har­vested by poach­ers with a chainsaw.

The mar­ket for rhino horn has reached an all-​time high, dri­ven pri­mar­ily by mar­kets in Viet­nam and China. Horn is seen as a sta­tus sym­bol, and is used in tra­di­tional Asian med­i­cine, despite the lack of evi­dence that proves its med­i­c­i­nal value. So rhino horn has reached twice the value of gold. Due to poach­ing the num­ber of rhi­nos in the wild is plum­met­ing glob­ally. Pro­tec­tion of these species in the wild increases. There­fore the crim­i­nal net­works behind the poach­ing activ­i­ties found eas­ier tar­gets, already about six years ago. They began tar­get­ing rhino spec­i­mens in Euro­pean muse­ums, fol­lowed by liv­ing rhi­nos in zoos. In 2013 the police in Kent, United King­dom, had an anony­mous tip-​off that the black rhi­nos of two zoos near Can­ter­bury could be tar­geted by poach­ers. For­tu­nately, noth­ing hap­pened. Per­haps because of the increased vig­i­lance that was estab­lished by the Aspinall Foun­da­tion, the zoos’ owner, with night-​time patrols.

So, it was not a sur­prise that Vince the rhino at Thoiry Zoo lost his life to meet the demands of those ill-​informed grow­ing crowd of afflu­ent Asian peo­ple. It was about to hap­pen sometime.

To protect its rhinos, Dvůr Králové Zoo started cutting off their horns on Monday 20 MarchAction is being taken: for instance in at least two zoos, in Bel­gium and the Czech Repub­lic respec­tively, the horns of their rhi­nos are removed as a pre­ven­tive measure.

But why only rhi­nos? Peo­ple are crav­ing for exotic stuff such as ivory, tiger balls, leop­ard skin, tor­toise­shell, pel­i­can eggs, horn­bills, pen­guins and rare mon­keys. Either for med­i­c­i­nal pur­pose, for sou­venirs, for their per­sonal ani­mal col­lec­tion, or just for sat­is­fy­ing their greed, and sadism. And why not for an exclu­sive dish with meat of an almost extinct species. All avail­able at the local zoo.

What kind of mea­sures should be taken to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble zoo ani­mals from being poached? What do we need to do to make zoos less attrac­tive as easy hunt­ing grounds for ruth­less poach­ers and gold dig­gers? Con­ser­va­tion of threat­ened species is part of the mis­sion of every mod­ern and rep­utable zoo. Which means that sup­port is given to con­ser­va­tion projects that pro­tect those species in the wild, next to cap­tive breed­ing pro­grammes and edu­ca­tion to the gen­eral pub­lic. But now it appears that the ex-​situ con­ser­va­tion should com­prise pro­tec­tion of the ani­mals from poach­ers as well. There­fore, such threats have made the list of exam­ples that the Born Free Foun­da­tion, an inter­na­tional wildlife char­ity, use to ques­tion the safety of zoo ani­mals.

Good fenc­ing and good locks is what comes to my mind first, together with improved secu­rity. More­over, tak­ing away the entice­ment — for instance by remov­ing the rhi­nos’ horns, stop cre­at­ing walk-​through exhibits, and avoid­ing close encounter oppor­tu­ni­ties — is what needs to be done. But saw­ing off a rhino’s horn is a major oper­a­tion which impairs the animal’s wel­fare, while it has to be repeated over and over again. And alter­ing the mod­ern enclo­sure design deprives the vis­i­tor of the expe­ri­ence, zoos think is needed, to get across the mes­sage about the neces­sity of nature con­ser­va­tion. The lat­ter is still under debate though.

The con­di­tions of most cap­tive breed­ing pro­grammes are such that they will never suc­ceed in return­ing captive-​bred preda­tor species in the wild — and espe­cially apex preda­tors are impor­tant for the resilience of the food chain and the ecosys­tem health. But when cap­tive breed­ing is use­less, the mis­sion of zoos con­sists only of edu­ca­tion, in-​situ con­ser­va­tion projects and enter­tain­ment. In my opin­ion this doesn’t require zoos to have liv­ing ani­mals on display.

So, why not turn zoos into info­tain­ment facil­i­ties based on nature doc­u­men­taries in 3D IMAX qual­ity, star­ring all those threat­ened species we need to pro­tect in the wild. Such motion pic­tures pro­vide the nec­es­sary expe­ri­ence, and when accom­pa­nied by the right kind of edu­ca­tion it can even be more effec­tive than the cur­rent visit to a zoo with liv­ing ani­mals, don’t you think?

Related blogs

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.
Fol­low me on: