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Zoos and the Best Use of Space

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Javan Rhino, 9 Dec 2016.

  1. Javan Rhino

    Javan Rhino Well-Known Member

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    When looking at the husbandry challenged species thread, I got thinking about the points on Whale Sharks and Manta rays, and it got me asking the question of 'Do zoos make the best use of the finite space they have?' Obviously the response will be different depending on the zoo and several other factors - but I just wanted to get a view of what people's thoughts are. I'm going to put a few points up for debate, with pros and cons for each.

    Large [especially less threatened] ABC species: This one is self explanatory - should zoos display a large species at the expense of several smaller species? The amount of space for one elephant exhibit at a single facility could probably be enough to secure a smaller mammal - now across the many zoos that keep, say African, elephant - that is at least 34 holders in Europe going by Zootierliste. So - can you justify saving the African elephant, or could the space be better used to properly conserve 30+ critically endangered species? Of course, the megafauna brings in the vital cashflow, and in this case elephants are a threatened species - but are they best use of a zoo's precious ex-situ space?

    Hybrids: Mixed-subspecies tigers, giraffes, lions, chimpanzees etc - this is a massive problem taking up valuable space in zoos, but what can be done? Does the educational value outweigh the fact they aren't pure, or could the space be better used to start again with a new ssp? If all of the hybrid tigers were culled that would free up a lot of space and could potentially pave way for the conservation of another pure subspecies. However, the outcry from this would of course be huge so [although I take no issue with it] gradual phase out may be a better option and zoos take the hit on space. Also, hybrids can be good 'starter' animals to give a zoo experience with the overall species before they take in the more valuable pure stock.

    Theming: A few zoos in the UK have started creating zoo exhibits with a lot of theming - but are they going over the top? Are the animals secondary in a zoo these days and should that be the case? It's good from an educational point of view and it heightens the visitor experience, and statues are cheaper to look after than live mouths. However, could that statue's space be a holding for a critically endangered squirrel or any number of smaller species that could benefit from ex-situ conservation.

    I'm interested to hear people's opinions on this as I'm sure we'll have a few on both ends of the spectrum :)
     
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  2. pachyderm pro

    pachyderm pro Well-Known Member

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    This is a interesting subject. I think
    Every zoo should have a good handful of abc species. I think the space for a large elephant enclosure is worth it i done right. Like if it was just a few dirt paddocks then no. Though if it's like birgiham or Dallas with many species around with the elephants as well as a large grassy savvana, then yes. Hybrids I don't think should be in zoos unless there rescued.
     
  3. lintworm

    lintworm Moderator Staff Member Premium Member

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    African elephants are a bad example, both elephant species won't be saved by ex situ conservation and are just taking up space as flagship ABC species. They may fulfil an educational role, but especially the African elephant population is just an unsustainable sink at the moment. I think whether a zoo should keep such a species depends both on the space available and also the history of the zoo (and possibly even the city), where smaller zoos would definately be more unsuitable, though multiple smaller city zoos in Europe (Amsterdam, Basel...) are currently building a new elephant exhibit.


    Theming good from an educational point of view? You have to explain that to me, because to me this theming around (and in) exhibits is distractive and creating a very strange representation of the wild with stranded trucks, maya ruins etc. but only little green..
     
  4. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    A critical part of this has to be the split between public and behind the scenes land allocation and tied into that management of those different sides of the zoo from a practical standpoint.

    Any big zoo likely has large areas which are off-limits to the public for a whole variety of reasons; one of which being the keeping of species either not considered popular enough to warrant a visitor experience enclosure; or those which fair badly in the public eye (high stress levels etc...).

    So the first part is a zoo has to consider which species they want to show and how much space they have to dedicate toward food, amenities, public walkways access; view points etc... All those elements are key if the zoo intends to make a meaningful income off its visiting public.

    Tied into that you get themes which help to craft the experience so that the visitor has a similar block of experiences and views that all add up into an overall experience. It also helps deliver information; design bilboards and information points and can sometimes even theme the zoo itself (even if not al species come from the theme location/area/region).



    And yes I would say that some bigger species do outweigh smaller ones when it comes to earning potential; people will travel and visit to see some species - a panda (whatever the politics and cost) is going to draw way more people than a tarantula. Of course sometimes small can work as a niche - for example butterfly houses.

    I think also there's the fact that most zoos don't sit down and just "start" they are often established or grow from private collections which might well be at the whims of whoever has the finances to fund as to what they like and choose to have (with or without consulting other aspects such as desirability;cost;conservation status etc...). Old established infrastructure might well dictate what you choose to put into the zoo today; meanwhile protected buildings (in older zoos) might also be a strong limit on what you can and can't do. Planning permission; cost; land required and location.

    I would say its one of those questions that has answers, but the answers vary a lot from site to site as well as even within a single establishment itself.
     
  5. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    It's my observation that one big difference between many zoos and smaller wildlife centres that I've seen; is that enclosures at zoos are nearly always very open. There is often very little hiding space within the enclosure; often to the point where the only spot is the sleeping area (which in bigger species is often only secluded by one-way-glass). I'm not sure if this is purely a visitor element or a result of a difference of approach to enclosure management - eg a more open enclosure is easier to monitor the animals within daily; presents potential reduced chance of injury etc...
     
  6. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    This varies from country to country, as well as between institutions. USA and Chinese zoos tend to be more concerned that visitors must be able to see animals every time than European zoos are.
     
  7. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    I think some of the ABC animals are necessary to draw people in. People visiting a large zoo will expect elephants, giraffes, lions, etc. But not every zoo needs to keep every single ABC species they can their hands on. A small city zoo shouldn't try to fit rhino, elephant, hippo, polar bear etc. in, but just stick to a few of them, and give those few great exhibits.

    Hybrids are another thing. Image the space and resources that can be spend on pure (sub)species if the generic tigers, leopards, lions, giraffes etc. would die out. Luckely, the giraffe EEP has some succes, with the number of hybrids going down and actively avoiding new breeding situations with hybrids. The few zoos which are still breeding them, can't get a new (e.g.) breeding male. So hybrid giraffes will be around for some time, but if the current policy on hybrids is followed, their number will gradually decrease.
    We can only hope the same will happen for tigers, leopards and lions.
     
    Last edited: 9 Dec 2016
  8. Javan Rhino

    Javan Rhino Well-Known Member

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    Fair play, maybe not education - however this does seem to be an argument for theming that I have heard used hence why I put it :)
     
  9. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    But that's bad theming. What about the rice paddies and Ethiopian huts at Zurich? The hull of HMS Beagle in Rotterdam's Oceanium? Leipzig's African savanna? Characterizing all theming as bland extraneous tat is unfair. Done right, I think it does add to an exhibit's educational value, as well as improving the visitor experience. As @Javan Rhino discussed the recent UK examples, however, I will concede that neither Islands nor Land of the Lions really meet these standards (Coral Sands excepted).

    Against the prevailing wisdom and possibly to prompt debate, I disagree with this in many cases. If we accept that most zoo species will never be reintroduced, why should we focus on pure subspecies? I'm aware of the problems raised by outbreeding depression, but inbreeding depression can be equally severe. With the possible exception of tigers, I'd rather see the taxa you named managed as sustainable, genetically diverse hybrid populations than attempting to maintain many genetically impoverished "pure" populations.
     
  10. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member

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    I agree very much with Mr. Zootycoon's point. ABC species are useful for drawing in crowds, but to use up a majority of space or all of the space for them is wasteful. Additionally, if push comes to shove, I think that threatened species should get priority over non-threatened species. I do think that zoos can create a successful balance though.

    I have to admit that I'm really not on board with culling animals simply because they are hybrids. Yes, they are taking up space for now, but that is a temporary situation that can be overcome by recruiting new institutions, building additional space, or sending them away to decent non-accredited zoos. The hybrids have just as much a right to decent care and to live out their lives as do purebreds, and zoos should respect that and find solutions that don't involve killing them off.
     
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  11. lintworm

    lintworm Moderator Staff Member Premium Member

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    Imo good theming is especially helpful in enhancing the visitors experience, but has limited value in education. Exceptions to this is the theming which is done purely for education, for example Zurich's elephant exhibit has some theming about human-wildlife conflicts in Thailand. But this is more of a mix in theming and education. And by far most exhibit theming does not have such a clear education message and for me thus only adds to visitor immersion (if done well). Unfortunately many zoos don't get further then the bad theming though imo....
     
  12. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    I see what you mean, but in the cases of giraffe, chimpansee, tiger and lesser extent also leopard, the pure (or almost pure) subspecies are already kept in large numbers. I think we should try to keep and enlarge these pure populatons, and decrease the number of hybrids. Not by culling hybrids, but by placing them out of breeding situations. Reintroduction might or might not happen, but if zoos in the (near) future want to contribute to gentic diversity in the wild, in any way, we should at least give them the possibility to do so.

    But take for example elephants. The current European zoo population is a mix of subspecies and hybrids. There are never enough individuals of each subspecies to keep viable populations on the long term. So in this case I would agree to keep breeding hybrids. This might also be the case for lions if we stick to the current zoo population.
     
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  13. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    Zoos can get a good deal of space by changing design. For example, green spaces can be incorporated into animal exhibits. In an average zoo, between 50 and 75% of space is not actually taken by animals.

    Lots can be improved by more clever mixed exhibits, for example putting primates in exhibit over ungulates.

    Like others, I agree than elephants are visitor attraction, so they generate space, not take it. Also, hybrids should be eliminated in favor of pure lines, if they exist.

    Side remark is that for many species, e.g. African and Asian elephants, there is not well known how subspecies are really designated. For lions, there seem to be zoo bloodlines extinct in the wild, eg. lions from Sahel.
     
  14. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    Another thought - infection its control and spread.

    It might well "waste" space but having green spots between enclosures (esp those of certain types) might well be important to help contain possible outbreaks which could jump cross species (even if just as a carrier).

    This control might also help for visitors as well; having multiple avenues to access certain key areas might well be critical not only for control of peek time traffic; but also to allow the zoo to shut down certain areas (renovation - empty cages etc...) without the public being inconvenienced and without the zoo appearing to be in hard times (you really don't want people seeing empty cages or walking past long lines of boarded up cages).


    Indeed some of that green space might well simply be there to cater for peek traffic or estimated traffic or past seasons traffic (ergo a zoo that had a peek and then fall in visitor numbers). A zoo that feels clustered and crowded won't create the proper impression on people.
     
  15. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    Yes, I presented a false dichotomy when really, as you point out, it's context-dependent. I'll avoid the issue of culling since it's been done to death (if you'll forgive the pun), but I do think we need a less "purist", more dynamic approach to population management.

    Of the examples you gave, it's noteworthy that arguably the most important from a conservation standpoint, Amur leopards, are hybrids maintained because they're more genetically diverse than the wild population. Indeed, wild Amur and North Chinese leopards probably interbred: a subspecies isn't on a one-way path to speciation. I wouldn't recommend hybridizing Sumatran and Amur tigers, because clearly there's local adaptation at play, but what about two leopard subspecies that fill a very similar niche? Or, to make @Jurek7's lion example hypothetical, would anyone really argue that zoo-bred West African lions are better candidates for a reintroduction program in West Africa than a wild-caught pride from Kruger?

    In an era of unprecedented global change, natural systems need to change in response. Part of our role as conservationists must therefore be to facilitate that, which includes maximizing genetic diversity to maximize the likelihood that wild populations will be able to adapt. Partly this relates to my much-discussed desire for a "bigger picture" approach to conservation, but, where fitness is increased, I think it is justifiable to sacrifice subspecies. The more raw material that's available, the more natural selection will have to work with.


    @lintworm: Agreed on all counts (I think).
     
    Last edited: 10 Dec 2016
  16. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    Like you said, everything is context dependent. Take again leopards, the case of Amur/North Chinese leopards is really different from (e.g.) the kotiya subspecies. Sacrificing a subspecies to save a species is of course justifiable. I don't think we actually disagree.

    But I am talking about conservation in zoos, where I think single (sub)species conservation has a place. With larger species, zoos can't be arks (as I pointed out in a different thread), and education is, or should be, the zoo's role in their conservation. So zoos want/need to have representatives. Why not take a pure (sub)species to do that? Preferably a really endangered one. Zoos change fast, so maybe a zoo in the future can contribute directly to in-situ conservation. But to help those future zoos, we should be careful with subspecies today. I won't say we need to keep subspecies pure at any costs, but we should asses each case seperately and take specific action for each (sub)species.
     
  17. Javan Rhino

    Javan Rhino Well-Known Member

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    Many thanks for all of the replies. Another point I'd like to bring up is zoos using inappropriate barriers because it "looks pretty for the visitors." For example, I was looking at aerial images of Blackpool zoo and noticed how much more space the gorillas could have if they could make the moat useable space. Many primate enclosures use moats rather than cages, however in my opinion cages are such a good use of space as they allow for a lot of climbing opportunity and add verticle space to an enclosure. What are people's thoughts with that, do zoos waste space (and create other issues) to make an enclosure look prettier? Are we as visitors happy for zoos to have pretty enclosures at the expense of possible wasted space.
     
  18. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    When people go to the zoo they often take away both an impression and pictures. If the impression and pictures are all wire and cage; bars and steel doors then people get the feeling that the place is cold; harsh and cruel (esp when you get facial expressions on many species - esp monkeys and apes - which look sad).

    So its no surprise that many are trying for things like moats or wide/deep ravines and other ways to allow people to get an obscured view of the animals and to give a more airy and open feeling without the need for bars and cage. It makes for a much much more open feeling to the area and better photos which means more interest and promotion for the zoo.,



    Heck if you take a simple two strand electric wire fence and simply take away the wire (leaving the posts) the area they enclose suddenly feels FAR more open and free. So its no surprise that cages will feel smaller to people; constricting; enclosing; excluding and like a punishment


    They certainly have their place and some species can't be housed without them; but on the flipside where its possible to house without them I'm not surprised many zoos jump at the chance to avoid them.