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Conservation Zoos Have Powerful Potential to ‘Reverse Extinction’ Study Shows

Conservation Zoos Have Powerful Potential to ‘Reverse Extinction’ Study Shows

Scimitar-horned oryx being released in Chad – SWNS

Zoos have “powerful potential” to reverse extinctions, according to a new study that found zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and seedbanks have a 50/50 record at bringing extinct species back into the wild.

In other words, thanks to dedicated conservationists, after a species’ chance of survival drops to zero in the wild, they still have a coin toss’ chance at living long enough to return.

The team at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) studied 95 animals and plants that have been extinct in the wild since 1950, after which they only survived in institutions.

Among these animals are the scimitar-horned oryx, several Polynesian tree snails, and the yellow flowering toromiro.

“Thanks to decades of tireless work saving species, we have the opportunity to re-establish more populations in the wild; it’s imperative that conservation zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and seedbanks are given the financial—and inter-governmental—support to do so,” said Donal Smith, from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

Through collaborative breeding programs, fieldwork, and research, ZSL has already helped return a number of extinct species to the wild.

They successfully returned Partula tree snails to the islands of French Polynesia and the scimitar-horned oryx to Chad. They now plan to return the colorful sihek, or Guam kingfisher, to the wild later this year.

The Polynesian tree snails were saved by private conservation in zoos – SWNS
Guam kingfisher – CC 2.0. Heather Paul

“European bison, once restricted to a small population under human care, is now thriving in the wild, offering an inspirational example of what pioneering conservation work can achieve,” said Smith, highlighting another example.

Experts at ZSL’s conservation Zoos in London and Whipsnade, have more specialty programs for animals extinct in the wild than any others in the UK. Every species’ situation is different, with some consisting of thousands of individuals, and others just a handful.

Unique challenges

“Each extinct in the wild species is unique in how secure it is from extinction, so saving them requires specific actions tailored to each species,” said senior author John Ewen, a researcher at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

“Contrast for example the high risk of extinction for the Socorro dove in zoos for nearly 100 years with a current population of just 162 birds, to the more secure situation for species like the scimitar-horned oryx where the zoo population size is in the thousands and successful reintroductions are progressing well only 16 years after extinction in the wild.”

European bison with calves – Pryndak Vasyl, CC license
Newly-born Przewalski’s Horse with its mom – Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Another of these animals that are currently returning to their ancestral lands is Przewalski’s horse, which was extinct in the wild for 40 years, and lived only in zoos as conservationists slowly increased its population with breeding programs that started from 12 individuals.

A new foal was born at the San Diego Zoo this year, and reintroduction efforts are ongoing in China and Mongolia.

MORE NEWS FROM ZOOS: How ‘Frozen Zoos’ Are Helping Save Vanishing Species

The study also shows the divide between animal and plant species. Despite there being an equal number of plants and animals which are extinct in the wild, there is more attention on getting animals back to their natural habitats.

Of the 12 species that have been returned, only two are plants.

MORE CONSERVATION NEWS: 12 Critically Endangered Red Wolf Pups Are Born in North Carolina – A Conservation Baby Boom

“There are several reasons why extinct in the wild plant species might be less frequently the focus of translocations, including a lack of suitable individuals for planting and changes to their original habitat,” said co-author Sarah Dalrymple, from Liverpool John Moores University.

“However, attitudes are shifting, with more emphasis on botanic gardens working together and finding suitable wild homes away from the site of origin, offering great hope for future plant recovery.”

SHARE The Examples Here Of The Heroic Conservation Work From These Zoos…


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