Zoos Choose Which Species Live, Which Ones Die

Zoo directors try to strike a balance with entertaining the public
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2012 4:50 PM CDT
Zoos Choose Which Species Live, Which Ones Die
Ruffles, a 31-year-old Black and White Ruffed Lemur, is seen at the Saint Louis Zoo, Thursday, May 29, 2008, in St. Louis.   (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

To be or not to be: That is increasingly the question for American zoos, which have to choose whether entire species live or die, the New York Times reports. With many species facing extinction, zoos are being asked to preserve the most endangered, a mission that can conflict with their need to entertain the public. "That model is broken," says one conservationist of zoos-as-entertainment. "There needs to be an explicit role for zoos to champion species.”

Many zoo directors are resisting the pressure, or trying to strike a balance. The St. Louis Zoo is breeding scores of black-and-white ruffed lemurs, for example, as part of an effort to keep them going. But many zoos are giving up on the lion-tailed macaques, of which only about 4,000 are left in the wild. One St. Louis Zoo manager likens it to gambling: “It is like looking out the window of an airplane and seeing the rivets in the wing,” he said. “You can probably lose a few, but you don’t know how many, and you really don’t want to find out.” (More endangered species stories.)

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