Veritable treasuries of endangered species, modern-day zoos are driven by the desire not only to show animals but to help us to understand them. They also have new aims:
Conservation and breeding
Habitat protection and the fight against hunting and illegal trade are essential but not always sufficient in themselves. Sometimes zoos need to put joint breeding programs into place to safeguard endangered species: this is known as ex situ conservation (meaning it takes place outside the animal’s natural environment).
Created by zoos in the middle of the 1980s, the European Endangered species Programmes or EEPs manage more than 200 species on an intensive basis. Every species that comes under an EEP is allocated a coordinator who gathers information on the status of every individual within a population in a geneaological book (studbook), carries out demographic and genetic analysis and makes recommendations for a species’ management (breeding, transfers…). Each EEP strives to maintain a healthy, sustainable population with good genetic diversity (more than 90% over a period of 100 years) and demographic stability. Indeed, good genetic variation and hence limited inbreeding help ensure the long-term viability of an animal population by making it adaptable to sudden changes in its environment. The Zoo de La Palmyre is involved in 41 EEPs.
Other animals are managed, less intensively, by European StudBooks (ESB). This also involves a coordinator compiling various pieces of data about the species (births, deaths, transfers...) in order to analyze the population. The coordinator may propose an EEP classification if they deem fit. The Zoo de La Palmyre is part of 14 ESBs.
Zoos help safeguard wild species not only within their own confines but in the animals’ natural environment. This is known as in situ conservation. The measures taken differ but the aim is the same: to preserve animals whose short-term survival is threatened by deforestation, hunting, an increase in human activity, the destruction of ecosystems... The Zoo de La Palmyre currently helps finance about 20 conservation programs in Africa, Asia and South America.
Having live collections means that zoos all over the world can contribute to research programs on various subjects: genetics, artificial insemination, environmental enrichment, behaviour, nutrition, parasitism, care and breeding techniques, cognition...
The Zoo de La Palmyre regularly collaborates in work led by universities, veterinary schools and research institutes on veterinary or human medical applications – by providing samples of hair, feathers, blood or even faeces, for example. All research is non-invasive, with the zoo vet taking the samples when an animal has to undergo an anaesthetic for medical reasons.
The Zoo de La Palmyre has most notably taken part in genetic research relating to cheetahs, southern ground hornbills and African wild dogs, and in research into white rhino breeding, primate prehension, social communication in humans and apes, and the parasitic pathology of the red panda...
The zoo welcomes many school groups throughout the year, hosting educational workshops on various themes, tailored to the children’s age and level. All workshops take place in the heart of the zoo, in front of the animal enclosures. At the same time as teaching schoolchildren about a particular species, they highlight the importance of preserving endangered species and the planet as a whole, and discuss the means of doing so.
The zoo also regularly takes part in the endangered species awareness campaigns organised by EAZA to raise funds for protection in the wild. It thus supported the Rhino campaign in 2006, the Madagascar campaign in 2007, the Ape campaign in 2011, the Pole to Pole campaign in 2014 and the Year of the Gorilla campaign organized in 2009 by WAZA.
Lastly, student vets and ethologists are regularly welcomed into the zoo as interns. Working with the zoo vet, student vets work on wild animals using techniques that are often very far removed from what is learned in traditional veterinary medicine. The young ethologists, meanwhile, can see first-hand the animal behaviour they are studying. Their observations often help to improve the management of a particular species in zoos.
Credits: © Hutan, F. Perroux/Zoo de La Palmyre, S. Meys, WCS Takamanda-Mone Landscape Project, M. Hurdebourcq, E. B. Ruivo.