Like fish in water
The checkbook is thus drawn only in rare cases, and most often it is the acquisition of fish and invertebrates to enrich the “collections”, as they say in the middle. Part of the explanation would come from the fact that it is difficult to raise fish in captivity. Some species are therefore purchased from specialist sellers, who assemble units from nature and resell them to aquariums, zoos and the general public.
In addition, this market would be more socially accepted due to the general lack of interest in the fate of fish and invertebrates, says Violette Pouillard in an interview, which conducted a comprehensive study of the first European zoos for her book. Zoo’s history through animals: imperialism, control, conservation. “There is a kind of marginalization of these species on the part of wildlife associations and opposition movements, which favors what is easier to understand and also to present in the media. Where do you start when you have hundreds of species? For strategic issues, of those that attract the most attention, ”says this researcher from the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.
The last octopus exhibited at the Zoo de Granby was thus purchased from a commercial fisherman in Vancouver. “She came from the sea: either I kept her alive for three or four years [son espérance de vie]or it ended up on the table in a restaurant in Vancouver, ”recalls Chantal Routhier in his candid statement.
At the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where the focus is on showcasing local animal and plant species, they prefer to pick up directly from the “backyard,” that is, in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the famous establishment. “About 80% of our exhibited species come from there,” says Scott Reid, Head of Collections, pointing out the window at the ocean unfolding before his eyes. He and his team of biologists have access to it thanks to a permit from the state of California, which operates under very strict supervision. “Small tropical fish and invertebrates like anemones, we buy them more from retailers,” adds the man who has worked at the aquarium since 1997.
As for the rest of the animals in zoos, their offspring can easily expect to swell up in their ranks without having to dive into the savannah.
From the middle of the 20thand century, the improvement of living conditions and the medical knowledge allowed animals in captivity to multiply. However, there is a detrimental side to this strategy: all giraffes presented today in approved Canadian zoos are related! “In common species, such as the raccoon, it is not necessary to monitor genetics closely,” said Gheylen Daghfous, curator of animal collections at the Montreal Biodôme.
But for 500 animal species, including the giraffe, the delicate question of genetics is included in the zoological procurement equation in order to preserve the greatest possible diversity in the populations. Couples are carefully tuned to avoid inbreeding. For example, in 1981, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) established the Arts Survival Plan (SSP), a program that provides approved facilities with recommendations for transfers and reproduction. Each of the 500 critical species has its SSP.
Cindy Kreider, who spent 41 years in Erie, Pennsylvania, zoo as curator and director, was until recently head of the Amur Leopard SSP. She explains that PHC is a long-term affair: We take care of the “genetic background for the next 100 years. If the captured population is small, this is something of a challenge!” Says the new pensioner. Ideally, the animals should have the same varied genetic background as their wild counterparts – which would be the case with amur leopards. ”Since the wild population is small [on compte tout au plus une centaine d’individus]it is perhaps even more genetically deficient, as we could very well find cases of reproduction between parents and children there, ”she says.
To boost the pool of DNA, it may be necessary to add new blood, as happens with species that breed in captivity at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “For species that do not have a long lifespan, such as jellyfish, after a certain period of time, we need to fish for a new parent line so that subsequent generations retain their strength,” Scott Reid points out.
Profits and birth control pills
Flushing its future residents out on social networks does not happen every day. This is why every person held captive has a number listed in the ZIMS (Zoo Aquarium Software Management) software that will follow throughout life.
ZIMS contains valuable information about the animals’ pedigree. The establishments exhibit their surplus animals there. A kind of paid Kijiji that 1,100 zoos and aquariums around the world, accredited or not, subscribe to. “It allows you to see that such a species in such a business has had pups, so if you are interested, you can contact the staff and start the discussion,” says Gheylen Daghfous, of Montreal Biodôme.
Approved zoos clearly prefer to move their residents to other places that are members of recognized associations (see box opposite). “We try to prioritize them because they have quality standards that need to be met,” says Scott Reid. We want to make sure that the donated animals end up in a good home. »
That said, zoos are not nurseries. “I’m not going to breed all the animals just to have babies!” exclaims Chantal Routhier, curator of Granby Zoo, which is accredited by AZA and Accredited Aquariums and Zoos of Canada. Populations are managed as needed. It is for this reason that SSP coordinators often examine zoos to find out who is willing to take more animals and prey on them. In case reproductive needs are not urgent, contraception can be used, a very common practice in North America to avoid ending up with 12 zebras on their hands and no zoo to accommodate them.
European philosophy is completely different. Some zoos do not suppress the animal’s natural behavior in captivity. Even if it means killing excess babies when no institution wants to acquire them. Clearly, this practice brings its share of ethical issues. “Is reproduction really crucial to animal welfare? Ask yourself the question to man, and you are no more advanced!” Remarks Alexis Lécu, of the Paris Zoological Park. He admits to having spent many evenings discussing the subject with his Scandinavian colleagues. we do not show that an animal that reproduces is better off than one that does not reproduce. It is very subjective. “
He especially evokes the case of Marius, the giraffe from the Zoo in Copenhagen, whose killing made headlines in 2014. Dissected in front of a school group before the pieces of his carcass were offered to the lions, the young mammal was in good health. , but considered by species coordinators of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums as “not necessary”, as its genes were already well represented in Europe. The year he had been put on a profit list. In vain.
Chantal Routhier would have liked to have saved him. But the requirements of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which aims to prevent diseases or pathogens from entering the country, did not allow it. “The giraffe is a ruminant, and the animal is automatically forbidden to enter because the risk is too high. The musical chair between zoos is really complex, and each transfer requires a number of permits, legal documents, permits from federal authorities, medical examinations, quarantines and months, sometimes even years of work.
Exceptions to the rule
It happens that new faces come neither from another zoo nor from a planned purchase. It can be donations from the public or seizures in customs, “although we can not accept everything for space reasons, and that is not the primary goal of the zoo,” Chantal Routhier clarifies.
These animals can also come from shelters or shrines. This is the case with Macéo, one of the cougars at the Paris Zoo. This young man attacked livestock herds in Chile and was therefore placed in a shelter. “Chilean zoos already have too many cougars, so these wild animals have a small future when they cannot be reintroduced into their natural environment,” said Alexis Lécu, who is also a consultant for the European Endangered Species Program (the European equivalent of SSP). ), including for lemurs and giraffes. I went there and the Chilean agents were taught to stun their cougars, take samples for research and put on collars. In return, we took this animal, which was kept in bad conditions, out of the shelter and brought it here. And it reproduced, so we’re pretty proud to say that the genes from the Patagonian puma are in Paris! He is still in captivity, but we have at least been able to improve his well-being. »
Just as knowledge sharing can act as currency, knowledge is also worth gold!