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Rodrigues Fruit Bat

Why Conservation Matters: How Zoos Help Protect Wildlife and Ecosystems

As a dedicated haven for wildlife lovers, Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos hold a deep commitment to not only providing a safe and healthy home to incredible animals but also spearheading efforts for their conservation.

Understanding the significance of preserving biodiversity and the critical role zoos play in this mission is critical to their future. To get a picture of the relationship between zoos and conservation, together we’ll explore:

  • What is conservation?
  • Why is wildlife conservation important?
  • How zoos engage in conservation
  • Conservation at Philadelphia Zoo

What is Conservation?

Wildlife conservation refers to the deliberate efforts aimed at protecting and revitalizing at-risk animals and plant species, as well as their habitats. It involves a spectrum of strategies, from scientific research and breeding programs in human care, to habitat restoration and public education initiatives on living sustainably. With human populations increasing tremendously, the need for natural resources has also increased, leading to many species being at risk, endangered, or extinct. While this can be a result of direct action—like exploitation, poaching, and wildlife trade, indirect causes such as climate change, deforestation and urbanization create massive impacts that disrupt ecosystems. Especially for these latter causes, conservation is not just one person’s responsibility, but a combination of wildlife organizations and the collective efforts of many to protect our home and its inhabitants.

At zoos around the world, conservation is a commitment that drives daily operations. All AZA accredited zoos partner with conservation organizations, conducting research internally and externally, and working as a network to implement programs that safeguard species from extinction.

“There are many species around the world that only exist today because they were saved by zoos,” says Dani Hogan, Director of Mission Integration at Philadelphia Zoo. “Thousands of people have dedicated their lives to saving wildlife, and we all work together to make that happen. The result is a healthier planet that has more biodiversity, more habitats, and more beauty for all of us to enjoy. As a zoo, it is our responsibility to bring this critical work to life for our guests.”

Why is Wildlife Conservation Important?

Preserving Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the cornerstone of a healthy ecosystem. Each species, no matter how small, plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of nature. Losing a species can have far-reaching effects on the environment, impacting everything from pollination and soil fertility to air quality and abundance of harmful pests. Humans are not immune to these effects: think how the loss of honeybees alone can greatly impact lives. Without the power of their widespread pollination, many common fruits and vegetables would cease to exist, while other products become astronomically expensive. Even lesser-known species such as the endangered Rodrigues Fruit Bats, are important to the survival of their ecosystems and the people that rely on it. Philadelphia Zoo maintains and cares for over 50 of these bats in the Rare Animal Conservation Center.

Ethical Responsibility

Humans have an obligation to protect the planet’s biodiversity as we continue utilizing and benefiting directly from its resources. Zoos, as institutions dedicated to wildlife conservation and education, must raise awareness and inspire action to create a better world for all its inhabitants. Remember—while no one person themselves can achieve a more sustainable world, individual actions can inspire many to do the same.

How Zoos Engage in Conservation

Accredited zoos around the world are crucial hubs for conservation efforts. “The mission of any accredited zoo is so much more than simply being a place for people to see animals,” says Dani Hogan. “At Philadelphia Zoo, you can visit animals that no longer live in the wild and learn about them directly from the staff who care for them every day. Every visit contributes to our conservation programs. So, a visit to the Zoo is a way for you and your family to have an amazing day while also doing something good for wildlife.”

Here are some typical ways zoos champion various conservation initiatives:

Education and Awareness

Through interactive exhibits, passionate staff ready to chat, and additional in-school educational programs, visitors and students gain insight about the importance of species conservation through making connections with their favorite animals.

Breeding Programs

Zoos around the world actively participate in breeding programs for endangered species. By carefully managing genetic diversity and breeding pairs, the aim is to bolster populations of threatened animals in human care and share new information that can aid researchers that work with wild populations.

Research and Innovation

Collaborating with scientists, conservationists and veterinary professionals, zoos are often at the forefront of global, groundbreaking research to better understand species and develop strategies for their preservation and care. As America’s First Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo has many times published leading research and methodologies that not only increase the quality of care for animals in human care but also provided additional insight to protecting animals in the wild.

“An excellent example of how zoos can provide inspiration and knowledge to protecting animals in the wild can be seen in Philadelphia Zoo’s Zoo360 trail system,” says Vice President of Animal Well-Being Rachel Metz. “These trails served as inspiration for the organization ‘Save The Golden Lion Tamarin’ when they were investigating ways to connect critical breeding habitats that were fragmented due to oil and gas pipe lines and interstates in Brazil. The tamarins can now safely travel from one forest segment to another, increasing the genetic variability of this endangered species.”

Inspiring the Community

Zoos bring the significance of wildlife conservation into their communities. They engage visitors of all ages and backgrounds by providing unique experiences and sparking our sense of wonder about the natural world. Zoos inspire collective action by partnering with local schools and organizations to offer experiences that ensure people become environmental stewards.

Conservation at Philadelphia Zoo

Conservation is not merely a choice—it’s an imperative duty. At Philadelphia Zoo, we are proud to stand at the forefront of these efforts, advocating for the preservation of our planet’s precious wildlife heritage.

“Since our charter in 1859, Philadelphia Zoo has been committed to caring for wildlife here in Philadelphia and around the world. Conservation is built into our existence,” says Hogan.

“Philadelphia Zoo is making a difference for wildlife and wild places while at the same time inspiring local communities to think critically about their actions and move towards a more conservation minded way of life. For a zoo, there is no higher calling,” says Metz.

Not only is the Zoo constantly engaged in all of the conservation efforts mentioned above, Philadelphia Zoo (an AZA accredited institution) funds staff field research, hosts community programs based around education, and directly supports the conservation of targeted species and habitats as well as conservation organizations. You can learn more about some of these below:

Join us in our mission as we continue to protect, educate, and inspire change by following us on social media or subscribing to our newsletter.

Philadelphia Zoo works with The Rodrigues Environmental Educator Project to protect the endangered Rodrigues Fruit Bat. Credit  Philadelphia Zoo

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