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Last Animals at the Zoo

How Mass Extinction Can Be Stopped

by Colin Tudge

266 pages, paperback, Island Press, 1992

Can captive breeding in zoos save tigers, apes, elephants, rhinos from extinction? Tudge, a scientific fellow of the Zoological Society of London, believes that it can. But that it will take great skill and luck, and may permanently change the animals whose lives are thus preserved.

Praise for Last Animals at the Zoo

"The best chapter in Tudge's fluent and careful book is the one is which he wrestles with the moral questions of conservation: why it is desirable to spend money on it, whether cruelty to one animal matters more than a chance to save a whole species." The Economist

"An excellent, well-researched book . . . I cannot recommend it too highly." --Gerald Durrell

"Colin Tudge's tough-minded defense of conservation and zoos is full of persuasive moral philosophy that properly accommodates opposing views. Tudge ruminates captivatingly on utilitarian arguments for conservation . .. . and eloquently on ethical reasons to preserve animals. . . . This book reminds us that the needs of animals and people can be reconciled."--The London Observer

About Colin Tudge

Quotes from Last Animals at the Zoo

"Only in recent decades has it been realised--only in recent decades has it become true--that for an increasing number of species, the populations inside zoos are larger than those of the wild. In addition, the zoo populations are often far safer than those of the wilderness, and in many cases are growing, while the precarious populations of the wild continue to dwindle."

"Of course the ideal is to save what is left of the wilderness; to protect the wild places where animals live. Of course. But in the short term that is not always an option. Always there are countries at war; always there are seemingly inexorable plans to change the landscape, with dams and harbours and cities; still the human population grows as no population of large animals has ever grown in the past. This expansion seems bound to continue for at least several decades, and the human population will remain at an enormous level for several centuries to come. Then again, most of the world has already been compromised. The remaining places that are recognisably pristine are far smaller than the continents of which they are a part, and the ecological forces that obtain in small patches of land are quite different from those of continents. Even in times of peace and plenty, then, it is no longer easy to conserve the 'wild.' "

. . .

"It is not enough, any more, simply to keep animals alive--or even alive and breeding. Curators acknowledge these days that 'state of mind' is as much a part of welfare as rude bodily health. And of course the ultimate aim is conservation, of which it is a condition that at some time the animals in captivity might return to the wild. Mere 'happiness' is not sufficient either, then. Animals in zoos must be encouraged to retain enough of their natural behavior to make it possible for them to go back to the wilderness; or enough at least of their native wit to enable them to relearn the necessary skills."*

. . .

"At the Workshop on Genetic Management of Captive Populations in Virginia in 1984, Michael Soule and colleagues suggested that the total of mammals that is likely to require maintenance in captivity in the next 200 years is just over 800; including 100 or so out of the 900 species of bat; all 160 species of living primate--the apes, monkeys, and lemurs and their relatives; all the 35 living dogs, including the wolves and foxes; 60 out of 72 cats; about 100 of the 172 even-toed ungulates, which include the cattle, antelopes, deer and giraffes; all 125 species of odd- toed ungulate (rhinoceroses, horses, and tapirs); both the two living elephants; all four of the sirenians, the manatees and dugongs. The figure of 800 becomes much larger if we break the species down into subspecies; . . . Even so, though 800 does seem a manageable number, for all the world's 1,000 or so zoos to manage between them. . . . In general, then, Soule and his colleagues agreed, as a rough working figure, that about 2,000 species of land vertebrate would need captive breeding in next 200 years. . . . There remain some vertebrates that cannot reasonably be saved by these means. The cetaceans--whales and porpoises--certainly do no breed well in dolphinaria; and any reserve that was earmarked for them would have to be so extensive that they would hardly be captive at all. . . For fish and invertebrates, captive breeders will just have to do the best they can. Freshwater fish in particular are endangered. Like forest beetles, many species tend to live only in particular places: isolated ponds or streams."

. . .
"[I]f we survey modern methods of conserving animals, we see an entire spectrum of approaches. At one extreme is the intensive breeding centre. . . . At the other end of the spectrum is the wilderness itself. In between, is every kind of compromise: fenced reserves ('sanctuaries') for just one species; tightly managed reserves with a select list of species and natural vegetation; reserves with natural vegetation in contact with 'wilderness', but with protection from predators; [and] the national park, which resembles wilderness, but must none the less be managed to maintain its diversity and prevent local extinctions."

"I have . . . pointed out first that all conservation endeavours are chronically short of cash, and second that it is extremely helpful and indeed vital in all conservation endeavours to engage the interest of people at large. . . . Conservation needs professionals, of course. But professionals add to the cost; and by being professional, they are inclined (sometimes intentionally and sometimes inadvertently) to cut themselves off from the laity. . . . There are two loose and heterogeneous groups of people who are not in general 'official'--by which I mean in this context that they are not officially sanctioned by the IUCN or some comparable body; but who could, in theory, help enormously to alleviate both of the principal problems that the professionals face. The first of these groups are the 'amateurs', or 'hobbyist'. The second are the commercial breeders, who sell animals both to hobbyists and to professional zoos. . . For all these reasons, many 'pros' now feel that the 'resource' of the hobbyist and the breeder should be tapped far more diligently. . . . We spoke in Chapter 4 of the need for bachelor herds: ideal for people who have space for a few animals in a hectare or so, but do not want the trouble of breeding. . . . Yet you do not need a big house in the country to contribute to conservation. Aquarists and aviarists (and even keepers of reptiles and amphibia) often achieve remarkable results in private apartments and garden sheds."

Table of Contents of Last Animals at the Zoo

  1. Why Conserve Animals?
  2. The Scope of the Problem
  3. First Get Your Animals to Breed
  4. The Theory of Conservation Breeding
  5. Projects in Progress
  6. The Frozen Zoo?
  7. The Whole Animal: Behaviour Conserved
  8. The Future

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