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Why Wild Animals Should Be Conserved in Captivity

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Wild animals play a vital role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. One single extinct animal species may lead to the collapse of an ecosystem, which could bring disastrous consequences on the environment. Marco Lambertini, Director General of World Wide Fund for Nature(WWF) International, stated that the size of populations of animals has already declined by as much as 60% in the last 40 years (WWF 2018). Green organizations such as WWF and Greenpeace have already undertaken significant efforts to try to save the remaining populations of nearly extinct animals. Most people support these efforts to conserve wild animals but split between the methods of doing so, which is to keep them in captivity or the wild. Although some people support conserving animals in the wild, conserving animals in captivity is a much better option because their safety from external threats can be guaranteed, and the repopulation of any conserved species can be achieved much more readily should they become highly endangered.

Firstly, wild animals are better conserved in captivity as their safety from external threats can be guaranteed. One major threat most animals face is the destruction of their habitat, which is often caused by human activity. For example, the Spix’s macaw, more famously known as the bird from the Disney movie, Rio, has been classified as extinct in the wild due to the loss of their natural home in the forests of Brazil caused by deforestation. However, the species is not entirely extinct as there are still roughly 60 to 80 of them in captivity. Additionally, wild animals also face threats like smugglers and poachers. This is especially true for orangutans as in just March 2019, an orangutan was found nearly dead, after being stabbed, shot and blinded with her month old baby in her arms while another was found drugged in a rattan basket after a Russian got caught for trying to smuggle it through Bali’s international airport (Ives 2019). On the other hand, orangutans in zoos and wildlife centres are cared for by experts and guarded in their habitat to ensure that they live longer. Thus, conserving animals in captivity can shield them from most threats in the wild.

Secondly, wild animals are better conserved in captivity as they can be repopulated much easier should they become endangered. As the populations of wild animals continue to decline, more of them are entering the endangered list. With the use of zoo animals to help breed and increase the population of endangered animals, it can be mitigated. Such is the case of the Amur leopard as in July 2018, a new leopard cub that was born in the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park is to be introduced to the Russian far east following part of a plan from 2015 between the Zoological Society of London and the Russian government to repopulate the area once again with Amur leopards (Rare Amur leopard born at Highland Wildlife Park 2018). Additionally, captive animals for repopulation need not necessarily come from a zoo, as in the example of the black softshell turtles, classified as extinct in the wild in 2002. A small population of the turtles still reside in captivity within the ponds of the Hayagriva Madhav temple in India, where they are cared for by the temple caretaker. A breeding programme set up by conservation group, Good Earth and the temple authorities, has yielded results in January 2019, in the form of 35 turtles, with 16 of them being black softshells, which were then released into a wildlife sanctuary (AFP 2019). Hence, it is quite clear that conserved animals in captivity are useful in the repopulation of endangered animals.

Many people argue that conserving wild animals in captivity will result in the development of abnormal behaviours which can be harmful to themselves. This is true for some animals, and a prime example would be the great white shark. Great white sharks have never lasted long in captivity, with the record being 198 days, because they would develop abnormal behaviours such as refusing to eat. Consequently, they become weaker and soon perish. The most recent case would be in January 2016 when a great white shark died just after three days of being exhibited in the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. It had not eaten any food given since it was caught (Great white shark dies after three days in Japanese aquarium 2019). However, this argument is weak as abnormal behaviours only develop because of a limited and unsuitable habitat for nomadic or free-roaming animals. Great white sharks are inherently free-roaming creatures that require a lot of space to move and roam about, and as such, an aquarium is not that suitable as a habitat for them. Another free-roaming animal would be the rhinos who very much prefer a habitat with a mixed landscape. As this is essential for their well-being, zoos have been cooperating by rotating rhinos between different enclosures and with each other to provide them with several habitats, each with a diverse landscape while simultaneously carrying out breeding programmes. The rhinos have adapted well to living in captivity like so, and the development of any long-lasting abnormal behaviour has not been observed. Therefore, it is possible to prepare a habitat and plan accordingly to prevent the development of abnormal behaviours within captive animals.

In short, conserving wild animals in captivity is the right way to go as they will be safe from any dangers and be able to repopulate the wild when necessary, while concern regarding the development of abnormal behaviours is valid, it is ultimately irrelevant as providing a proper habitat for specific animals has shown to prevent that. While not possible for all species as of now, more research should be done to develop a suitable plan to conserve all species of animals in captivity. By doing so, the threat of extinction for wild animals would soon be a non-issue. However, only with the assistance and full support of governments around the world, can this be accomplished. Even so, these efforts must be taken now as more animals become one step closer to extinction with each passing day. 

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