Chester Zoo

Zoos and aquariums applauded for saving species from extinction by the IUCN

Posted: 12th October, 2023

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has acclaimed the conservation work of a zoos and aquariums in an unprecedented statement of support from the global authority on nature and conservation. Today (October 12), BIAZA has released a list of top conservation projects being undertaken by zoos and aquariums in the UK and Ireland, to mark the statement. 

BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has welcomed the statement as recognition for the world-leading conservation work of its member zoos and aquariums. However, the association warns there is much more work to be done to create a world where nature can thrive. 

This IUCN SSC Position Statement on the role of Botanic Gardens, Aquariums and Zoos follows years of extensive and collaborative work and public consultation. It recognises the extent and importance of the contribution of zoos and aquariums in the conservation of animals, fungi and plants. It points to how zoos and aquariums maintain high standards of care, conservation, education and research to conserve and restore species. 

BIAZA, which represents over 120 of the top zoos and aquariums in Britain and Ireland, has published a list of five exciting conservation projects that demonstrates the statement: 

A pioneering vaccine for elephants – Chester Zoo1

The elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a major threat to the long-term survival of the endangered Asian elephant. The elephants at Chester Zoo are part of a world-first vaccine trial for this terrible disease. This conservation work is only possible because Chester Zoo provide dedicated care to a family of Asian elephants at the Zoo. 
This ground-breaking new vaccination has been developed as a result of a long-term collaboration led by the Zoo and scientists at the University of Surrey. Chester Zoo’s elephant care experts are leading the first vaccine pilot study, supported by a host of other major conservation zoos in the UK and Ireland, including Dublin Zoo, Whipsnade Zoo, Blackpool Zoo and Woburn Safari Park. 

Restoring the Natterjack Toad in Ireland – Fota Wildlife Park2 

By working with the Irish state-run National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Fota Wildlife Park has helped boost populations of Ireland’s Endangered Natterjack Toad. Fota Wildlife Park takes part in the NPWS’s Head Starter population augmentation programme for the Natterjack Toad, providing dedicated captive reared spawn and tadpole toads that are collected from the wild. Following metamorphosis, the resulting toadlets are then returned to the species’ native range in County Kerry. 
Natterjacks endure natural mortality rates as high as 90%. Captive rearing decreases the mortality rate, and therefore the project boosts the adult population in the wild. As of August 2023, Fota Wildlife Park has released over 9,000 toadlets (young toads) into the wild. 

Restoring seagrass – Wild Planet Trust & National Marine Aquarium3 

Seagrass meadows are important carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests as well as providing important habitats for a whole range of species including seahorses. Shockingly, the UK has lost more than 90% of its seagrass meadows in the last century. 
The Wild Planet Trust’s Paignton Zoo and the Ocean Conservation Trust’s National Marine Aquarium are collaborating in their ‘Blue Meadows’ project. Seagrass meadows are one of the most biodiverse and vital marine habitats. The project is growing seagrass at a special facility for physical planting, which goes hand-in-hand with community outreach and monitoring. In addition, they have installed advanced mooring systems so boats can reduce their impact on these fragile habitats. 
This project has recently been shortlisted for the prestigious Great British Wildlife Restoration award!4 

Reintroducing the Scottish wildcat – Royal Zoological Society of Scotland5 

The Scottish wildcat is on the precipice of extinction. Saving Wildcats is a partnership project dedicated to wildcat recovery in Scotland, to prevent their extinction by breeding and releasing them into the wild, a first in the UK. In June 2023, the project conducted its first release of wildcats bred at RZSS zoos (Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park).  

Saving Wildcats aims to release around 20 wildcats yearly into Cairngorms National Park. They have also been helping mitigate threats by engaging with local communities, including farmers and gamekeepers. Saving Wildcats is as much about people as it is about wildcats. 

This project has recently been shortlisted for the prestigious Great British Wildlife Restoration award!4 

Saving the scimitar horned oryx in North Africa– Marwell Wildlife6  

Despite previously occurring over vast tracts of the Sahara in very large numbers, the scimitar-horned oryx is now extinct in the wild. Marwell Wildlife, a zoo in Hampshire, manages the international breeding programme for this special antelope, known as an oryx. As well as saving this species through the care of zoos and safari parks, Marwell are also at the forefront efforts to reintroduce the antelope to Tunisia and Chad.  

The initiative in Chad, being implemented on the ground by the Sahara Conservation Fund, will, for the first time re-establish the species in an unlimited and free-ranging environment. The scale of the operation makes it one of the largest and most ambitious species reintroduction efforts attempted anywhere in the world. 

The IUCN report raises a non-exhaustive list of six key areas in which aquariums and zoos can, and do, fulfil in the conservation of wild species: 

  1. Care, knowledge, and management of animals, plants, and their environments 
  2. Monitoring and understanding animal/plant health and pathology 
  3. Conservation translocations 
  4. Ethical research, science and data 
  5. Engaging with and inspiring communities, on a local, national and global level 
  6. Employing and training staff to care, conserve and advocate for nature 

It also highlights those species which have returned from the brink of extinction thanks to zoos and aquariums, citing species like the tequila splitfin fish (for which Chester Zoo played a hand bringing back from oblivion) and the pink pigeon (whose continued existence is supported by London Zoo). 

While it is gratifying to see the positive influence and potential of zoos and aquariums highlighted, BIAZA has called for zoos and aquariums to redouble their efforts. 

Nicky Needham, the Head of Species Management and Conservation at BIAZA commented: “All across the world good zoos and aquariums are fighting for a future where nature thrives. But we must do more. We face an extinction crisis where around a million species are at risk of being lost forever. The UK state of nature report just the other week showed us a shocking loss in nature.” 

Razan Al Mubarak, IUCN President said, “I have been personally involved in efforts for reversing population declines and improving the conservation status of species, and the inspiring success stories I have seen give me hope. It is never too late. Species can recover in the wild, if given a chance in well-managed captive populations such as those maintained by zoos, botanic gardens and aquaria."   

Kira Mileham, Director of Strategic Partnerships, IUCN SSC & Co-convener of the Position Statement said: “This position statement highlights that many botanic gardens, aquariums and zoos around the world are critical partners in species survival and in connecting with communities to inspire further action.” 

“It is past time that we recognise the roles that leading botanic gardens, aquariums and zoos play in saving species, that we encourage those who are not yet fulfilling these roles to do so and that we work as one united species conservation community. Only then will we succeed in halting extinctions and recovering populations of plants, animals and fungi around the world to ensure a shared future for us all.” 

The complete report can be read here

1 For more information on the EEHV vaccine trial see:  

2 For more information on the natterjack toad project see:   

4 The Great British Wildlife Restoration celebrates the native species conservation work of the British members of BIAZA. The Blue meadow project has been shortlisted along with 21 other projects including those restoring red squirrels, oysters and bison. More information can be found here:  

5 To find out more about the saving wildcats project:  

6 For more information on scimitar horned oryx conservation:  

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