The reality of conservation and education at London Zoo | Letter

Matthew Gould of ZSL responds to an article on conflict between animal rights activists and zoos

Your article (Conflict between activists and zoos shows little sign of going away, 17 October) says “Activists … point out that zoos abduct animals from their natural habitats”. This is certainly not the case for animals at London and Whipsnade zoos, which come from globally important breeding programmes, customs confiscations, or the like.

The article also reports Peta’s claim that work by zoos on conservation is a “con”. ZSL, which runs the zoos at London and Whipsnade, is first and foremost a conservation charity, and our zoos are a key part of that work. ZSL’s zoos hold 15 species that are extinct in the wild (more than any other zoos in the world). These species simply would not exist any more were it not for collaborative breeding programmes. We work with 105 threatened species at London Zoo, and 84 at Whipsnade Zoo – 38 of which are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list. We are world leaders on reintroducing animals safely to the wild, from the design of release programmes to providing detailed health screening and post-release monitoring.

Our global conservation programme and ZSL’s 140 scientists are doing impactful research concerning conservation and animal health – from viruses affecting amphibians to building effective eel ladders for British rivers. UK Research and Innovation judged nine-tenths of our research outputs as “world leading” or “internationally excellent”.

Finally, the article quotes a study of the educational impacts of visits to London Zoo. We would like to make clear that this study – Evaluating Children’s Conservation Biology Learning at the Zoo, by Eric Jensen, published in Conservation Biology in 2014 – concluded that zoo education interventions can make a positive difference in learning for many children, particularly when supported by the zoo’s learning team. Further studies have backed this up, and of teachers surveyed in the past year at London Zoo, 92% agreed that their visits enabled students to engage more in nature and conservation.

The biggest shame here is that the article played up an unnecessary and damaging divide between different organisations that all care for animals, their treatment and their future. It needn’t be like this. The cause of animal welfare and conservation would be better served by us together trying to find points of agreement and common cause, rather than playing up points of difference.
Matthew Gould
Director general, ZSL


The GuardianTramp

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