The rapid declines and extinctions of our planet's rich biodiversity in recent years has led organisations throughout the world to take action. Our zoos and aquariums have become part of this global movement and are fast becoming a powerful force for conservation. Our members work as part of a global conservation network guided by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
We believe that the best place to conserve wildlife is in the wild and we support our members in their efforts to carry out and support field conservation work both at home and overseas. Many of our zoos and aquariums have charitable status and all our members are involved in conservation projects either directly or by partnering with conservation charities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
As a community we make a significant contribution to conservation. Our members support more than 600 field conservation projects, contributing over £18 million per year. They supply skills, staff and equipment for wildlife conservation, and essential materials for education and awareness programmes in developing countries. They also play an important role in conservation awareness-raising in the UK, support conservation campaigns and facilitate the career development of young conservationists.
One plan approach
Zoos and aquariums take a one plan approach to conservation. Whilst traditionally conservation programmes were split into field conservation where work was carried out to conserve animals in their natural habitat (in-situ), and conservation breeding which primarily focuses on breeding animals within zoos and aquariums (ex-situ), today we talk about conservation as a whole, combining in-situ and ex-situ techniques in an integrated approach.
Ultimately, much of our knowledge and expertise that can be lent to field conservation programmes has been gained through the management of animals in zoos and aquariums. The science behind supporting animal populations in the wild has evolved through cooperative zoo and aquarium breeding programmes, increasing our knowledge of their health and welfare needs.
Reintroduction aims to re-establish a species in an area which was once part of its historical range, but where it has become extinct. Animals for reintroduction can be sourced from captive collections or can be wild animals translocated from other areas.
Reintroduction can be a valuable conservation tool and there are a number of exciting and successful projects in which zoos have played an important role. However, they tend to be very demanding in terms of financial support, resource management and ensuring that the populations being reintroduced are successful. Survival techniques can be lost in captive bred animals so programmes have to be planned carefully, ensuring that the animals have the necessary skills to survive. This may involve pre-release training in antipredator response, and avoiding imprinting by disguising keepers as members of the same species. Long-term post-release monitoring is also essential to evaluate the success of the project.