Where do zoos get their animals from?

Snow Monkey at Central Park Zoo

On the face of it you would think that this is a straight forward question with a simple answer.  Popular belief led by a few organisations, with vested interests, is that most zoos go out into the wild and poach animals at will. Well that may have been the case in the early 1900s but not today. The movement of animals and where those animals go has become a science within itself.  A good zoo will not take a chance and just put any animal in the mix. They invest a lot of time and money in making sure that they get the right animal both temperamentally and genetically. They do this for diversity within their populations and to protect their investments.

Most zoos around the world are governed by legislation and rules controlling the importation of animals and the movement of specific species within countries. In a lot of countries, zoos need to be accredited before they can reach zoo status and be eligible to house certain animals.  Accredited zoos are members of zoo associations both private and government within their home countries as well as globally. These associations uphold standards in the health, welfare and housing of animals- with zoos needing to meet these standards prior to being accredited. 

Dwarf Mongoose at the Bronx Zoo

By far the most common source of animals for zoos is from other zoos.  Zoos swap and receive new animals regularly for different reasons. The main reason a zoo will bring in a new animal is for commercial interests, after all they are businesses that need to attract visitors to stay viable. Zoos will only provide animals to other zoos that have been accredited to house that species.  Another major reason zoos will swap and move animals from one zoo to another is for conservation purposes. Lots of zoos participate in breeding programs so keeping a diverse blood line in a zoo’s population or taking advantage of  opportune mating conditions plays a large part in which zoos gets what animal and when.  Conservation is also achieved by education and zoos will bring in animals that help in the telling of their conservation message. Zoo associations generally keep data based on zoo in habitants so that the movement of animals can be easily controlled.  

Texas Tortoise at Central Park Zoo

Zoos may receive animals as a gift from a nation. The Chinese Government will loan a giant panda to a country as a symbol of friendship- this is called panda diplomacy. These pandas are generally lent out for a specific time frame; it is usually a male and female with the agreement that if the pandas have a baby, the cub remains the property of the Chinese Government.  Once the Chinese Government announces their intention to gift a panda to a country, zoos will spend huge amounts of money firstly bidding for the right to house the pandas and then creating the enclosure. Having a Panda can be a gold mine to a zoo.

Zoos also receive animals from customs as a result of illegal animal smuggling or from members of the public who bring in an injured animal that can’t be released back into the wild or who’s habitat has be destroyed. 

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and  legislation, standards and accreditation are only as good as the standards upheld in each country. Some countries don’t have animal welfare laws let alone agencies to manage standards at zoos. Unfortunately there are zoos that pay smugglers to poach animals for them. Some of these zoos can’t afford to feed these animals correctly, and house them in less than acceptable conditions. New illegally smuggled animals are sometimes introduced without health checks or suitable quarantine periods, subsequently spreading disease that ravages the already under-fed, stressed population. 

So to wrap up, the best way we can help stop illegal animal trading and poaching, is to only visit a zoo that is  accredited by a reputable zoo association. Put your money where your heart is!



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