Last month I wrote a post about my struggle to decide whether zoos do more good or harm to wildlife - despite their conservation promises many do not live up to actually preserving the species that need saving, and many more of animals kept in zoos are in little danger or extinction. You can read that post here:
MY STRUGGLE WITH ZOOS: ARE THEY GOOD OR BAD FOR WILDLIFE?
However since having written that post I have discovered a zoo that really does appear to stick to its promises, and it's main focus above and beyond money making is:
"Saving Species from Extinction"
This is the Durrell Wildlife Park based in Jersey.
I first heard of the zoo through a BBC program "Refugees of the Lost Rainforest" which was made to mark 50 years since the founding of the park. The program, centred around conserving the highly threatened Orang-utan species, followed the work of Durrell in both Jersey and Sumatra. Dr Ian Singleton, who trained at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, is working in Sumatra to save orang-utans from problems such as deforestation, and has committed himself to a basic lifestyle in Sumatra with all his energy focused on these great apes.
Durrell Wildlife Park (formally Jersey Zoo) was established in 1958 by naturalist Gerald Durrell who began his career capturing animals for other zoos. He had his doubts about the way zoos operated and thought the focus needed to be more on animal conservation rather than mere entertainment; his way of thinking was far ahead of his time and this idea was very controversial. Upon setting up his own zoo rather than collecting animals that would bring in huge numbers of visitors he brought in creatures such as "the volcano rabbit" (which Durrell referred to as "the little brown jobs") which are, although perhaps boring to look at, critically endangered.
And still today the zoo lacks emphasis on large show-stopping mammals but rather focuses it's energy and attention on those that are critically in danger no matter how small: with breeding projects and training people in the animals' local environments it is by far the most exciting zoo I have heard of.
I haven't had the chance to visit the zoo, but it is clear from the zoo's website that conservation is by far the most important topic. The first link you can click on is not to book up and visit the zoo, but a link named "Conservation" which leads you to an explanation of how Durrell chooses it's focus species to concentrate on saving. And when you do get on to the part about visitor costs it outlines how each price can be used:
Durrell prides itself on the species it can confidently say it has saved such as the Mauritius Kestrel which, before Durrells intervention, was down to 4 individual birds: the species is now up to 350 individuals, and the Echo Parakeet which had only 10 left but are now numbering 500.
Despite it's lack of large mammals and it's far-out of the way location Durrell receives around 169,000 visitors per year, a fact which I think truly shows the way people feel about conservation.
My thoughts and feelings for zoos in general have not changed - I still hate to see a captive animal that could be free and wild. But Durrell have hit the nail on the head and done just what needs doing. Their focus is not on the biggest most exciting animals but the ones that most critically need our help, however boring to look at. I hope that one day the rest of the zoos will follow suite and change their focus from being a place of entertainment to being a place for true conservation.
You can see the Durrell Wildlife Park Website here: http://www.durrell.org/
If you ever find yourself in Jersey do take the opportunity to visit! Because this is place is one in a million.