How do zoos help animals

"Zoos can make an important contribution to species protection"

Interview with Dr. Arnulf Köhncke, Head of Species Protection at WWF Germany.

What is the general position of the WWF on zoological gardens and animal parks?

The WWF endorses the tasks performed by numerous zoological gardens and zoos in the areas of species protection, education and research.

What roles do zoos have in international species protection? After all, the animals do not live there in the wild.

Well-managed and internationally recognized breeding programs in zoos can, for example, make an important contribution to species protection. In addition, many zoos participate in programs with the aim of reintroducing species that are threatened, or previously almost extinct or extremely rare in the wild. In addition, research in zoos can help to better understand the behavior, biology or diseases of the threatened species.

Are there any animal species that would have become extinct today if they had not been kept in zoos or animal parks?

There are. For example, at the beginning of the 1970s, only about 200 golden lion tamarins lived in the wild. Various environmental organizations such as the WWF then worked together with zoos to ensure the survival of this marmoset species. Thanks to good breeding successes, over 200 zoo-born golden lion tamarins have been released back into the wild since 1993. Today there are again more than 1000 golden lion tamarins. In 2003, the species considered "critically endangered" was even downgraded to "critically endangered" on the Red List of the World Conservation of Nature Union.

Are there any examples in Europe?

In the bison, zoos played an even more crucial role in the survival of the species. Because in 1927 the last wild bison in the Caucasus was killed and the species would have become extinct if a total of 12 bison had not survived in zoos and enclosures. On the basis of these few animals, breeding began and the first bison could be released into the wild in Europe's remaining virgin forests from 1952 onwards. In the meantime, more than 3000 bison are living in the wild again. Since 2013 there have even been wild bison in Germany again - a small herd was settled in the Rothaargebirge near Bad Berleburg. There were similar successes with the Przewalski horse. These horses disappeared in Eastern Europe in the 18th century and in Mongolia in the 1960s. Since 1969 they have been considered extinct in the wild. Like the bison, they were saved from complete extinction by breeding them in zoos and enclosures.

Worldwide, however, the commercial aspect of animals bred in captivity, especially of species threatened with extinction such as tigers, is becoming ever stronger.

That's true. This is especially true for zoos in parts of Asia. There is also the uncontrolled and sometimes illegal removal of animals from the wild, for example for dolphinariums. For this reason, it is necessary to distinguish purely commercial establishments from legitimate and recognized zoos. Many institutions that give themselves the title zoo are in reality circuses or amusement parks that make no contribution to species protection, but pursue purely economic interests.

So a zoo is not just a zoo?

The term “zoo” is not legally defined internationally and therefore there is no legally binding regulation that would stipulate the aspects relevant to species protection in zoos and animal parks.

Which zoos does the WWF work with?

WWF Germany is currently working more closely with individual zoological gardens in Germany - e.g. with Tierpark Berlin, Wilhelma, Dortmund Zoo and Krefeld Zoo. The prerequisite for cooperation is that the zoos are affiliated to the umbrella organization of scientifically managed zoological gardens in German-speaking countries, the Association of Zoological Gardens (VdZ). WWF Germany has agreed to strengthen the hitherto sporadic cooperation with the VdZ.