Zoos and Conservation

28 September 2020 – News

Today, the global zoo and aquarium community is focused on conservation, education and research, in addition to entertainment. The community’s resources, mainly originating from visitor attendance revenue, make it the third largest in situ contributor to conservation.

This study used a global dataset of over 450 zoos in order to investigate how visitor attendance and in situ project collaboration were influenced by the zoo’s composition and by socio-economic factors. The structural equation modelling (SEM) was used to test the determining factors of both visitor attendance and in situ conservation contributors.

The study showed a positive relationship between the number of visitors and population size. It also showed that the number of large-bodied species and species diversity also influence zoo/aquarium attendance. The number of threatened species in the zoo, surprisingly, made no difference to attendance levels.  Overall, however, the authors found that high attendance rates, the zoo’s location and the proportion of threatened species were positively correlated with its contribution to in situ conservation projects.

In the past, the main determinants of a zoo collection were personal preference, the availability of animals and the result of competition between institutions. Today, choices are usually made based on discussions with regional and international associations, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).   Decisions are made not only on the organization’s own goals but also on the genetic and demographic sustainability of species within the global zoo population. Ethical, management and welfare considerations can conflict with a strategy based on maximizing zoo attendance so it is important to strike the right balance.

Mooney, A. et al. A system wide approach to managing zoo collections for visitor attendance and in situ conservation. Nature Communications (2020) 11:584. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14303-2 | www.nature.com/naturecommunications