Conservation Benefits Overstated
Zoos promote the idea that their main priority is the conservation and protection of endangered species, but most animals in zoos are not endangered at all.
Although many of the people that work in zoos may have the best intentions, the majority of their work actually revolves around creating a spectacle to maximise visitor numbers, either for the purposes of profit or providing a tourist drawcard for the local area.
Some zoos do successfully contribute to conservation projects, but only a small part of this is “breed and release” and only with a very small number of species. In Auckland and Wellington zoos these include native kiwi and weta. But they still devote far more money and resources to keeping animals captive for entertainment with the bigger animals like elephants and lions paying the ultimate price. Many people will argue that larger animals like elephants are needed as drawcards for visitors and that they help raise money to help other animals in the wild but when you consider how little money is donated versus how much profit is made, it is difficult to justify keeping these magnificent animals in captivity.
In 2015 Auckland Zoo acquired (at a cost of $3.2 million) a new elephant, Anjalee, from Sri Lanka potentially as part of a breeding programme. Since any calves born will never be reintroduced to the wild, the acquisition has no conservation benefit whatsoever and just creates more animals in captivity for people to look at.
Precious funds that could be used to protect animals in the wild are often used on cosmetic improvements such as landscaping, refreshment stands and gift shops, in order to draw in more visitors. According to Wildlife New Zealand, it costs sixteen times more to keep a black rhino in captivity than it does in the wild; resources that would have a far bigger impact on protecting wild populations than keeping one rhino in captivity does.
Zoos are simply not a cost-effective model for conservation. However, they are a cost-effective model for entertaining the public. This entertainment is at the expense of the animals! Easy as it is to forget, animals in zoos suffer not from outright abuse, but from extreme deprivation caused by their restricted environments.
Most people do not realise that there is no such species as a white tiger. The myth of the rare white tiger was an illusion to deceive the public into thinking these cats were endangered and being preserved for future generations, but the truth is that they are the result of a genetic anomaly caused by inbreeding.
At Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary/Kingdom of Zion (formerly known as "Zion Wildlife Gardens") there are white tigers that are the result of deliberate family inbreeding which not only carries health risks for the animals, but means they have no conservation value for the wild and can only ever be kept in captivity. Big cats were also declawed, a practice that is cruel and unnecessary, and which led to a Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) investigation in 2008.