Many wild plants and animals are coming under increasing pressure. Many species are endangered, often as a direct result of human interference. Modern Zoos provide sanctuary for animals that have nowhere left to live in the wild. Worldwide, Zoos and botanical gardens are working co-operatively to help maintain the enormous diversity of species on our planet. Zoos breed endangered animals. The best way to save animals is in their own environment. In many cases this is not possible, and it makes sense to establish a reserve population far away from the dangers of the wild.
The Modern Zoo
Today’s best and most progressive Zoos usually consider their main roles to be those of conservation, education, scientific study and recreation.
Teachers and educationalists have for many years appreciated the potential of the modern Zoo as a means of conveying the wonder and variety of the natural world to younger generations.
Zoos are no longer simply in the business of imparting information, but rather of heightening awareness and raising consciousness as part of the broad environmental movement.
The important work that Zoos undertake is based on various scientific disciplines such as nutrition, behaviour, genetics, reproductive biology, ecology and veterinary science.
Advances in animal husbandry and management have raised the welfare of Zoo animals and enabled Zoos to respond to the urgent calls from the conservation community.
The devastating effect of man’s activities on natural habitats and wild animals has threatened the survival of many species. Zoos now play an important part in the maintenance of the earth’s biological diversity through breeding programmes.
Since the early 1970’s the Welsh Mountain Zoo, in response to the needs of wildlife conservation, has been reassessing the nature of its animal collection. This has enabled the Zoo to join some of the developing inter-Zoo co-operative breeding programmes that cover a wide range of endangered species.
Many of the programmes are endorsed by the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union.
Financial resources at Colwyn Bay are limited and the decision to join a managed breeding programme sometimes means that other, less conservation sensitive species, can no longer be kept.
Other species managed co-operatively include:
- Przewalski’s Wild Horse
- Andean Condor
- Lar Gibbon
- Cotton Top Tamarin
- Humboldt Penguin
- Chilean Flamingo
- Californian Sea Lion
- Ring-tailed Lemur
- Red-fronted Lemur
- Also, the native British species:
- Red Squirrel
The animals seen at the Welsh Mountain Zoo should be viewed as only part of a much wider population in Zoos throughout the world. They are part of a conservation insurance policy; ready, should the plight of the wild populations become so serious, for the possibility of reintroduction programmes.
The British Isles Breeding Programme for Red Squirrels is also run from the Welsh Mountain Zoo and a member of staff is the current Species Coordinator for the Programme.
The Welsh Mountain Zoo’s commitment to the conservation of species is not restricted to captive breeding. The Zoo actively pursues a policy of giving assistance, where possible, to projects aimed at saving natural habitats. For example, the Zoo has provided financial support for Lemur conservation in Madagascar.
The Zoological Society of Wales does not have the financial resources to employ research scientists. The Society is, however, well aware of its obligations to ensure that the animals in the zoo are accessible to the scientific community, so that the zoo can play its part in widening man’s knowledge of the natural world.
Such research projects as are carried out at the Welsh Mountain Zoo by visiting scientists are non-invasive; they do not compromise the welfare of the animals or disrupt breeding programmes. A project involving detailed behavioural observations would be a good example.
Student from a number of British Universities are able to make use of the facilities at the zoo in order to carry out Honours Projects, and research for higher degrees. The Welsh Mountain Zoo also offers regular assistance to research projects in other parts of the world.
North Wales Seal Rescue Centre
Since the zoo opened in 1963 a wide variety of injured and orphaned native species have been brought in for care and rehabilitation. Most of this care, in recent years, has concentrated on young grey and occasionally common seals.
This work is carried out in collaboration with the RSPCA, and in 1997 the North Wales Seal Rescue Centre was opened at the zoo. The centre has two filtered pools and an indoor intensive care unit. This development, funded by zoo friends and supporters, has resulted in an improvement in the care given, and an increase in the number of animals treated, before their release back into the sea.
One of the most important elements in the coordinated breeding programmes is record keeping. At the Welsh Mountain Zoo records are kept on the Zoological Information Management System or ZIMS as it is known, which is a new generation of sophisticated animal management software that was devised in the USA.
The Welsh Mountain Zoo is also a member of ISIS, the International Species Information System, based in Minnesota and all data is sent to their international database.
These increasingly sophisticated systems of record keeping are proving to be vital to the success of nationally and internationally co-ordinated breeding programmes. More and more of these programmes are being instigated and guided by the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union’s Species Survival Commission.