Zoos in the 21st Century

April 28, 2000 • Volume 10, Issue 16
Are efforts to breed endangered animals paying off?
By David Masci

Introduction

Kejana and Baraka, adolescent lowland gorillas at the National Zoo, were born in captivity in the early 1990s. The endangered species is native to coastal Gabon and the mountains of Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda. (Photo Credit: National Zoo/Jessie Cohen)
Kejana and Baraka, adolescent lowland gorillas at the National Zoo, were born in captivity in the early 1990s. The endangered species is native to coastal Gabon and the mountains of Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda. (Photo Credit: National Zoo/Jessie Cohen)

Zoos have come a long way since their beginnings in ancient times as diversions for the rich and powerful. Many zoos today see their primary purpose as breeding endangered species in captivity and reintroducing them into the wild. But critics in the animal-welfare community say reintroduction efforts have been unsuccessful and that zoos would better serve the cause of wildlife conservation by devoting more time and resources to helping preserve threatened habitats around the globe. Others argue that zoos, regardless of their good intentions, are fundamentally immoral because they imprison thousands of helpless animals merely for the sake of human amusement. But advocates of zoos argue that they play a crucial role in awakening the public to wildlife-conservation issues.

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