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Shouldn’t they be in the wild?

Dave Smart
Zoo News - Posted 16 February 2017

Trevor Penfold AA 06316

Shouldn’t they be in the wild? it's a question often asked when the subject of animals in zoos comes up.  There are then invariably references to ‘cages’, ‘prisons’ and the terrible treatment that animals have been subject to in the past. Times change though, and we have got better.  Good zoos have learnt, and now we are teaching.  Hamilton Zoo is a good zoo, accredited, focused on conservation, passionate about wildlife.

So, why do zoos exist, and why are animals not in the wild?  

In the late 19th century, the southern white rhinoceros was thought to be extinct but in 1895 a small population of less than 100 individuals was discovered in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. 

Today, after a century of successful protection and management, they are classified as ‘near threatened’ in the wild. Although still hunted and poached for their horns – mistakenly believed to have medicinal qualities in some cultures – about 20,000 animals exist in protected areas and private game reserves.  Poaching sadly, has recently increased again, and Zoos like us play their part by showcasing animals as ambassadors for wild populations and conservation projects, as well as providing genetically sound reserve populations. 

We have six southern white rhinoceros at Hamilton Zoo, the youngest Samburu was born in June 2016.  Seven of the ten rhino born in New Zealand were born in Hamilton.  They are safe. 

In March 2016, the Red Panda’s status on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species regressed from “vulnerable” to “endangered”.  Deforestation and habitat fragmentation are the main threats to the survival of red pandas and poaching for their beautiful fur is a major problem in China. 

Hamilton Zoo Red pandas Chito and Tayla have had 9 offspring, travelling to and breeding in places like New York, Singapore, Canberra and Wellington.  They are safe.

The cotton top tamarin’s natural habitat in Colombia is being destroyed due to deforestation. its estimated that 80% of their population has been wiped out over the past 20 years.

In January of this year, a cotton top tamarin named Mishka came to Hamilton Zoo from Taronga Zoo in Sydney, he’s here to breed with resident female Bianca.  They are safe.

In Sumatra, it’s estimated that there are only a few hundred Sumatran tigers left, this is once again because of deforestation.  The natural jungle gets destroyed, oil palms are planted so that palm oil can be added to human food and cosmetics.  Where do the tigers, orangutans and other wildlife go?  Unfortunately, there is nowhere.

Hamilton Zoo has five Sumatran tigers, includings Kirana and Kembali who were born in 2014.  They are safe.

Closer to home there are regular stories of domesticated animals like dogs and cats as well as introduced species like stoats killing kiwi in the wild.  The very bird that we take pride in naming ourselves after is dying out because of decisions that we made.

I recall a social media post on the ‘Residents of Rototuna’ Facebook page a couple of years back, the poster was complaining about pukekos scaring her cat and was asking for advice on how to get rid of them.  It doesn’t take a zoo professional to note that the growth in our city’s north is on an ancient lake bed.  Hamiltonians took the land and moved in.  Wildlife’s natural habitat was reduced even more.

These stories are repeated all over the world and the root cause is always humans.  Native species, exotic species, it’s all the same.  Why, when it’s now recognised that taking away the lands of indigenous peoples all over the world was wrong, is it still ok to take away the lands of the animals?  Is it because they have no voice?

Conservation groups, zoos and like minded individuals and organisations exist to speak for the animals and to stand up for the animals because it seems that no-one else will.

For those who say that animals should be in the wild, and zoos shouldn’t exist, we agree.  Help us teach the ones that don’t understand that the wild is nearly gone.  Help us teach the ones that don’t understand that the increasing rate of human population taking over habitats is the reason why.  Help us help wildlife.

It’s as if we are at war with nature, a war that humans feel we must win at all costs.  The truth sadly, is that we will lose, because for us to live without nature would be impossible, and for nature to live without us would be its greatest gift.

- Dave Smart is Hamilton Zoo's Visitor Experience Manager

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