Joan Embery on
Why Zoos are Good for Conservation
Keeping wildlife in captivity is bad. Animals being free to roam the wild is good. Right?
The issues surrounding animal rights can seem very black and white to armchair activists. But what happens when the habitats in which these animals live– their food sources, their safe havens– are destroyed? What happens when humans hunt and poach animals to the brink of extinction? How do we save these species for future generations?
For better or worse, most kids first learn about wildlife from their local zoo. The very best zoos not only focus on wildlife education, but conservation of endangered species via captive breeding and responsible re-introduction programs:
- The Phoenix Zoo helped bring the Arabian Oryx back: Extinct in the wild in 1972, there are now more than 1,000 roaming freely.
- Critically endangered by loss of their Brazilian rainforest habitat, the Golden Lion Tamarin‘s status has been improved by captive breeding at DC’s National Zoo.
- There were only 22 California Condors left in the wild by the late 1980s. The San Diego Zoo used condor hand puppets to feed baby birds, and now more than 200 fly free.
- Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has used artificial insemination to breed and release over 200 Black-Footed Ferrets, which were mostly extinct in the wild by 1980.
- Only 45 Amur Leopards remain in the wild, but there are 220 in breeding programs in zoos around the world, with a reintroduction scheme currently in the planning stages.
Joan Embery is one of the world’s leading wildlife conservation advocates. A professional Fellow of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, she founded the American Association of Zoo Keepers. As the San Diego Zoo’s goodwill ambassador since the early 1970s, she’s appeared on The Tonight Show nearly 50 times and hosted educational shows such as Animal Express, Animals of Africa and myriad PBS specials.
We recently spoke to Embery about breaking into the male-dominated world of veterinary medicine in the late ’60s, what drew her to wildlife education, why zoos are good for conservation, and the role she sees ecotourism having in saving endangered species.