It may seem contrary to consider captive birds helpful wild bird conservation, but in fact zoos, aviaries and other captive facilities can be very beneficial both to exotic wild birds as well as local wild bird populations. Birders who understand what zoos do to help local and worldwide avifauna can then opt to support zoos and help promote bird conservation.
Zoos, also called zoological parks, bioparks or menageries, are controlled habitats where animals are held captive and displayed. The oldest zoo was believed to be an exotic menagerie exhibit in Egypt that operated in approximately 3500 BC, and other ancient zoos have been documented in China, Greece and Europe. Many older zoos were often criticized for gross violations of animal rights, including inappropriate and too small enclosures, poor care and cruel treatment of the animals. Modern zoos, however, pride themselves on providing accurate representations of animals’ habitats and caring for their animals in humane and ethical ways.
Today, there are more than 1,000 zoos around the world, and while their size, quality and dedication to conservation can vary, many of them are important facilities for preserving wildlife diversity, including birds. In addition to zoos, bird conservation is also a part of many aviaries, marine life parks, botanical gardens and similar facilities.
How Zoos Help Wild Bird Conservation
Just keeping birds captive and displaying them for the public does not provide a great deal of benefit to bird conservation, but zoos do much more than that. Different ways zoos protect and preserve birds include…
- Safety: When a bird species is critically endangered from loss of natural habitat or invasive predators, birds kept in zoos are safe from those threats and can continue to survive. This safety helps preserve the species while additional conservation measures, both in the wild and in captivity, can be put into place.
- Captive Breeding: Captive bird breeding programs are part of the conservation efforts of many zoos. In these programs, birds that have been bred can be released in the wild to help augment declining wild populations, or else the birds will help grow an even larger breeding program to help restore a species.
- Education: Birds in zoos help raise awareness about wildlife diversity and endangered or threatened species. Viewing exotic and memorable species can create an individual interest in helping supporting wildlife conservation, and many zoos offer unique experiences such as free flight aviaries or bird shows to further engage and educate guests.
- Research: Captive birds are easily studied and the extensive research programs zoos participate in can lead to greater understanding about what affects bird populations, reproductive success and other factors that can then be used for better wild bird conservation. Unlike field research projects, a zoo-based project can continue for years with the same individual birds, and that intimate understanding can be invaluable for ornithologists.
- Inspiration: Seeing a unique bird and learning a little about it can easily inspire a new birder or conservationist. That inspiration can lead to a lifetime of bird conservation and greater support for local programs, birding organizations and introducing children to birds, all of which help increase popular support for bird conservation.
- Rehabilitation: Some zoos are specially equipped for bird rehabilitation and are able to help injured wild birds recuperate and return to their natural habitat. When the birds are not able to be released but are healthy enough to have a decent quality of life, they may remain in captivity in the zoo or similar facilities, serving as avian ambassadors to the public.
How Zoos Help Local Birds
In addition to promoting the conservation of wild birds around the world, zoos can also be beneficial to local bird populations. Many zoos have extensive grounds with native landscaping and open water features, the exact habitats that attract local resident birds and passing migrants. Because zoos are a controlled environment, invasive predators such as rats or feral cats are aggressively controlled and wild birds in the area benefit from a safe sanctuary. Many zoos also offer programs about local wildlife, including birds, and may schedule presentations about feeding birds or other aspects of backyard birding that can make the entire community more bird-friendly.
How You Can Help
It is easy to support zoos and therefore promote bird conservation. Simply visiting the zoo is effective, as admission fees help fund the zoo’s programs and many zoos contribute to wildlife conservation funds with a portion of their proceeds. Becoming a member of a zoo contributes more, and bringing guests to visit can help inspire even more individuals to support the zoo and its bird programs. Reading the plaques on different exhibits can be informative and will help visitors learn even more ways to support bird and wildlife conservation.
Zoos may be captive facilities, but they can also be great forces for conservation. By understanding how zoos conserve and protect birds, it is possible to better support zoo projects and benefit all wild birds.
Photo – Captive Andean Condor © Eden, Janine and Jim