The news that Newquay Zoo destroyed two healthy young male Sulawesi black-crested macaques because they were behaving “aggressively”, has shocked the public, animal charities and conservationists alike. David Bellamy is quoted as saying “They must be mad”.
It seems the height of irony that members of this endangered species (one of the most threatened in the world) should be so summarily despatched but, sadly, I am not that surprised. Captive breeding for so-called conservation is largely a myth. There are 16,000 endangered species of animals according to the IUCN Red List. At the very best estimate, zoos can breed about 3% of that number (500) in co-ordinated programmes. They don’t achieve anything like that number but that’s the best guess of what they could do. However, that is only half the story because is such breeding for conservation or preservation? Are these animals or their progeny ever going back to the wild? Are zoos putting the resources and energy necessary into habitat protection in order to ensure that in that rose-tinted future there is a natural world for these species to go to? Sadly, in almost all cases, the answer is no.
So, zoos set up breeding programmes, breed animals in their small, captive, alien environments and then, should they be successful, wonder what to do with the surplus, with the over-represented males in the population and with the animals that ‘fight’ because there is nowhere for them to run. Euthanasia, as a management tool to deal summarily with the results of misplaced breeding initiatives, is abhorrent to most reasonable people but it is the direct result of what is, in my view, a failed, bankrupt so-called conservation strategy.
The zoo industry needs to think again.
It is too late for Venus and Ia. Depressingly, I predict the same solution may well be applied to more animals in the not-too-distant future.
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