In reference to the article “A Better Life for Animals Can be Found Outside of Zoos,” we would argue where outside? The writer mentions sanctuaries and conservation centers as better options. The truth is, accredited zoos and aquariums are both sanctuaries and conservation centers.
Webster defines a sanctuary as a place where someone or something is protected and given shelter. All accredited zoos and aquariums have rigorous welfare and regulatory standards and can point to an excellent record of having healthy, long-lived animals in their care. We are in the midst of what has been identified as the 6th extinction. The rate of extinction has increased a hundred-fold in the last century with over 18,000+ species facing oblivion. As we work together to mitigate threats, zoos provide a safe haven for species under threat.
Conservation can be defined as the protection and preservation of natural ecosystems and wildlife. Accredited zoos and aquariums conduct and contribute to active programs that aid species survival, research and conservation, both at home and in the wild. Zoos collectively are spending $350 million annually to ensure the future of highly endangered species in the wild. This contribution rivals partner conservation organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy. Our zoo has been instrumental in the developmental of wildlife reserves in Armenia, Peru, Kenya and Niger. Locally we have restored approximately 170 acres of native pollinator habitat. We have worked with international and regional agencies to reintroduce Partula snails to Tahiti, scimitar-horned oryx to Chad, and American burying beetles and hellbenders to our state–Missouri.
The writer also challenges the important role zoos play in educating the public. Today, well over 50 percent of our populations live in cities. We are rapidly becoming divorced from the realities of the natural world. Every year, over 700 million visits are made to zoos and aquariums that are members of national or regional associations around the world. Our zoo alone is annually visited by over 3 million people. In 2016, we conducted over 4,830 education programs, activities and offered educational services to 816,000 people. The types of sanctuaries references by the writer are not open to the public and have little capacity to educate.
Finally, the writer suggests that the goal of zoos is to make money. Many accredited zoos are non-profits as is my own Zoo. In fact, we assume the high costs of exceptional animal care with no return on that investment other than the satisfaction of knowing animals we care for inspire the people who see them and may encourage those visitors to work to conserve species for future generations.
Zoos and aquariums and zoo-based conservationists, like me, provide a vital connection to the world of wildlife and our environment. Together we help foster an understanding and a perception of nature and why saving wild things and wild places matters.
Michael Macek, BS, MBA
Chief Operating Officer
Saint Louis Zoo