A Tragic Disconnect

Hello readers, here is a blog from my friend and Born Free Foundation CEO, Adam Roberts

A recent edition of Connect, a publication by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) as “a forum for promoting AZA’s mission”, was at pains to highlight their members’ support for tiger conservation programs.

Apparently, in 2013, 47 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums supported tiger conservation. This figure accounts for approximately 21% of their 228 accredited zoos and aquariums.  Sounds reasonable enough, right?

HOW did they support tiger conservation? WHAT did they actually support? I wonder.

According to the AZA, in 2013 “member facilities” spent $572,908 on tiger conservation.

Firstly, which are these “member facilities”? Are they simply the 47 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums? Or do they include the non-accredited animal keeping member facilities, such as the International Animal Exchange, Inc, an animal transport company, or Natural Encounters, Inc, who provide expertise on animal training and shows?

Moreover, participating in conservation can include a variety of activities. It could include funding of field conservation in the wild (in situ conservation). On the other hand, it might simply be participating in captive breeding programs, or even contributing to the costs of maintaining the animal collection. Does this relatively small sum, equivalent to less than $2000 per AZA accredited zoo, in some cases include the costs of keeping tigers in zoos under the term “conservation” (conserving the species by housing an individual?)? And if so, does that really justify claims about conservation participation by AZA zoos?

Whatever the answers to these questions, what is clear is that there is a financial and human  investment made by zoos in keeping animals in captivity. We are convinced that this investment could be put to better use protecting animal populations in the wild. Tigers have no difficulty reproducing when given the opportunity to in their natural environment; resources spent on captive breeding programs serve only to diminish resources that could be spent on wild populations.

The real questions are: are we ensuring that tigers breed in the wild, not in captivity, so populations can increase; and, are we mitigating the conditions that have caused the precipitous and dramatic decline of wild tiger populations over the past century?

Human-animal conflict, habitat destruction and poaching are key threats currently pushing wild tigers to the brink of extinction. The drive to satisfy Asian demand for tiger parts and products made from them is hastening the species’ demise. The Born Free Foundation is taking positive steps to protect wild tiger populations: engaging with local communities in Central India with the Satpuda Landscape Tiger Programme (SLTP), and working to enforce bans on international trade in tigers and tiger parts. All the while rescuing individual tigers in need with partners like Wildlife S.O.S. and ensuring a humane lifetime of care.

Sure, zoos are quick to talk dollars invested in “tiger conservation” and praise their tenuous involvement in wild tiger population improvements, but the fact remains that the battle for tiger conservation will be won in the wild, not within the concrete confines of American zoos.

Adam Roberts

One Response to “A Tragic Disconnect”

  1. Gill Gilbey Says:

    Dear Adam,
    I think we all agree that the way forward is for Tigers to be living in the wild,and protected in the wild.
    Surely to be able to use the term “conservation” means that the animals will ,eventually be released back into the wild otherwise they are kept captive.
    A separate and much bigger problem is the Asian trade of tigers and other animals for “Chinese medicine” which is rampant and requires a solution.Whatever deterrents are in place are but a drop in the ocean!