Zoos Focus on Conservation Efforts in Face of Global "Conservation Crisis"

Mar 6, 2017

The zoos of the 1970s would be barely recognizable when compared to the zoos of today, and some believe the zoos of the future will be radically different again - with their focus geared mostly towards conservation efforts.

Mark Vukovich, the president and CEO at Blank Park Zoo, calls the condition of the world’s wild species a “staggering disaster.” He says, "In 20 years for sure, the only place you’ll be able to see some animals is in the zoo.”

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe hosts a conversation on the changing role zoos play in the face of changing standards and greater environmental challenges.

"I want to be optimistic, but also realistic," says Rob Shumaker, executive vice president and director at the Indianapolis Zoo. "We’re in a conservation crisis around the globe. Folks are referring to this as the sixth great mass extinction on our planet. There’s no way to argue against the fact that many many species are in incredible peril.”

He says  that while videos of wildlife are helpful, there is no substitution for seeing an animal in person.

Ayana at two-years-old. She's one the Blank Park Zoo's two eastern black rhinoceros.
Credit Sarah Boden

"The reality is that most people don’t have the opportunity or the resources to travel around the globe to places like Africa, Australia, or Central or South America to see wildlife in their native habitat. We have to find ways to share that with people so we can engage them, enlighten them, and empower them to take conservation action."

Vukovich says that he's seen this firsthand, in the five years that the Blank Park Zoo has been involved in rhino conservation.

"It took the physical presence of [the rhino] baby to explode the support for conservation of rhinos in Iowa. We had millions of hits on our website. Our Facebook fan-base quadrupled. It took the presence of a rhino, which would not have happened without a zoo in Des Moines being able to breed rhinos, to cause that excitement and cause that engagement of the public."

Along with Vukovich and Shumaker, Kevin Drees, the director of Animal Care and Conservation at Blank Park Zoo, joins the conversation.