How do you feel about the role zoos play in protecting threatened species?

St. Paul, Minnesota, USA — Primate zookeeper Megan Elder gets up close with one of the four male gorillas at the Como Park Zoo. (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

The new Gorilla Forest exhibit at Como zoo opens today and will be home to seven gorillas, six of which are new to the zoo. The $11 million redesign includes what is said to be the largest all-mesh enclosure in North America. The changes to the exhibit exceed the requirements for holding, exhibiting and managing the gorillas under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the United States Department of Agriculture.

With natural habitats for animals like gorillas being destroyed by construction and development from humans, there is controversy about how conservation should be addressed. Some believe keeping animals in zoos is a way to prevent extinction, while others have major grievances about the unnatural living conditions within zoos and argue for the preservation of natural habitats abroad.

The Capital Animals’ Protection Society voices strong opposition to animal captivity and is working to eliminate zoos in the UK.

“We maintain that zoos deliver a misleading, and damaging message by implying (both implicitly and explicitly) that captivity is beneficial to the cause of species conservation and that visitors are able to witness “wildlife” first-hand in the zoo environment. This message directly contradicts that of many leading experts in the field of conservation and the overwhelming body of evidence that demonstrates that species can be conserved only as part of their entire ecosystem; that is, habitat conservation is the only way in which effective conservation can be realized.”

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park website states that all subspecies of gorilla are endangered and the six gorillas at the National Zoo are managed under a “Species Survival Plan” where they have successfully bred the animals.

Today’s Question: How do you feel about the role zoos play in protecting threatened species?