The Zoo´s Mission
The Mission of Modern Zoological Gardens
The original purpose of a zoo was mainly to allow its visitors to get to know as many different species of animals as possible; but nobody considered what the animals might need. Animals which live in groups in the wild were often kept alone, and all under completely unsuitable conditions in small compounds. It is only recently that things really changed. A zoo is now not just a place to relax and to learn, but also a place where an effort is made to protect these animals. Many of these species no longer live in the wild, or are soon to disappear. Evidence of this effort comes in the shape of two European zoo preservation programs known by the abbreviations EEP and ESB (American zoos have a similar scheme). On a global level, there are the international studbooks.
What are EEP and ESB?
If you see either of these abbreviations and the symbol of a rhino on the board outside an animal´s enclosure, it means that this animal is included in the European Endangered Species program (EEP), or is at least included in the European Studbook (ESB)..
What does this mean for the animal?
Each of these species is assigned a coordinator. The coordinator is a specialist at a particular zoo and keeps a detailed stud book containing all the animals of a particular species which are housed in zoos. He also knows how they are interrelated. In a way, he concerns himself with the lineage of all the recorded specimens. Working together in this way increases the chance of animals kept in the long-term care of humans to stay in good condition. One day, if conditions are right, they will be returned to the wild.
How is the Ostrava Zoo involved in EEP and ESB?
Since 2006, the Ostrava Zoo has been authorised to conduct the ESB for Common Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius). What are the reasons for the establishment of the Common hippo ESB? It’s mainly because of the decreasing population of hippos in the wild. This decline is due to unregulated hunting for meat and the ivory of their teeth, as well as agricultural conflicts. As one of Africa’s best known aquatic icons, it has been listed as threatened for the first time and is now classified as Vulnerable in the Red list of Endangered Species published by IUCN. This was primarily due to the catastrophic decline of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 1994, the DRC had the second largest population in Africa – 30,000 after Zambia’s 40,000 - but numbers have plummeted by 95%. As Jeffrey McNeely, IUCN Chief Scientist said: “Regional conflicts and political instability in some African countries have created hardship for many of the region’s inhabitants and the impact on wildlife has been equally devastating.” The Common hippo still inhabits 27 African countries; however, in 18 of them the populations are declining. The Ostrava Zoo has many years of experience with keeping and breeding this species. Further, the hippo is in the new heraldry of the Zoo. Moreover, the Ostrava Zoo is currently involved in 40 other EEP and ESB programmes (e.g. for the red panda, the lion-tailed macaque, the Vietnamese sika deer, and the Diana monkey). In the future, we will strive to increase the number of endangered species we have in stock.
How does it work with returning them to the wild?
Whenever possible, zoos attempt to work together with other institutions and individuals to return animals back to their original environment. This also happens in cases where a species has been completely eradicated from its homeland or numbers have dropped to such an extent that they would disappear from the wild without human assistance. Why are species vanishing so quickly these days?
- The main cause is that their natural environment is shrinking due to growth of the human population and expansion of agriculture.
- Despite the efforts of rescuers, poaching is on the increase. Sadly, there are people in rich countries wanting to buy goods made from the skins of rare predators (jaguars and leopards) or maybe a stylish pen made out of ivory.
- Trade in live animals is growing sharply. People in wealthy countries, including the Czech Republic, are showing more and more interest in purchasing attractive animals, such as large species of parrots or tortoises. These “animal lovers”, however, are playing a major role in reducing the number of these animals in the wild. Also, few people are aware animals smuggled out of their native country often do not survive the awful conditions of the journey. For each live animal transported, there are several which have died on the way over.
Some of the more well-known cases of endangered animals being returned to the wild include Przewalski´s wild horse (returned to Mongolia), the curve-horned sable antelope (released back into Tunisia) and the golden lion tamarin (Brazil). The most important prerequisite for successfully returning an animal to the wild is obviously that the original biotope has not been destroyed, which, unfortunately, is so often not the case these days.
The Zoo´s efforts towards preservation do not focus only on species from far away exotic lands, but also on local fauna which is under threat. The situation here is often not much better. In the 1970s and 80s, the Ostrava Zoo was involved in the reintroduction of our largest feline, the Carpathian lynx, into Sumava and also in Italy, Switzerland, and the former Yugoslavia. The last wild lynx in the Czech Republic was shot in the 19th Century. Nowadays, the Zoo is involved in reintroducing the heavily endangered barn owl back into the Czech countryside. Each year the four pairs of breeding owls hatch around 20 young which are destined to be returned to the wild. Some 200 of them had been returned free of charge by the end of 2004.
One of the missions for modern zoos is to educate the visiting public. At the Ostrava Zoo, this task is carried out by the Public Relations Department, whose activities include schooling, lectures and promotion.