COS 83-2 - Contribution of zoos and aquariums to endangered species recovery in the United States

Wednesday, August 9, 2017: 8:20 AM
B110-111, Oregon Convention Center
Judy P. Che-Castaldo, Conservation and Science, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL, Lisa J. Faust, Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology, Lincoln Park Zoo and Shelly Grow, Conservation and Science, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Silver Spring, MD

Conservation of threatened species is an important part of the mission for modern zoos and aquariums. These institutions have long partnered with other conservation groups and government agencies to help recover species through a range of in situ and ex situ conservation efforts. However, many of these projects are conducted at the local level, focused on individual populations or species, and often opportunistic. Thus the scope and magnitude of these actions at the national level are not well understood. In this study, we conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the means and extent to which U.S. zoos and aquariums (“zoos” hereafter) contribute to the recovery of species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We quantify the different types of conservation activities conducted in zoos in terms of the number of projects, institutions involved, and species affected, using two datasets: the Annual Report on Conservation and Science (ARCS) surveys compiled by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) from 2013-2015, and a public database of recovery actions for listed species maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These complementary resources allow us to compare the self-reported contributions by zoos against those recognized by the agencies responsible for implementing the ESA.


Focusing on the 424 U.S. listings for terrestrial and avian species, AZA-accredited zoos reported projects for 74 (17.5%) species, whereas 55 (19.2% of the 286 with recovery plans as of 2016) had plans that named zoos as responsible for recovery actions. Only 18 species were shared between these datasets, and 36 species with zoo projects had recovery plans but they did not mention zoos. These discrepancies may have arisen because recovery plans can be outdated and underrepresent current projects, or a zoo's participation may not specifically be listed as a recovery action. We assigned keywords to categorize the 631 project submissions in the ARCS dataset, and found that projects were primarily related to research (25.1%), monitoring/assessments (17.7%), population augmentation (15.5%), assurance populations (13.6%), and general fundraising (11.3%). In contrast, the 469 recovery actions attributed to zoos mostly related to assurance populations (32.4%) and research (19.4%), and were less focused on monitoring/assessments (6.4%) and population augmentation (7.5%). This suggests that zoos contribute more to in situ conservation projects than recognized in recovery plans. Our findings highlight the wide-ranging conservation actions by zoos, but also a need to better integrate efforts and improve communication across recovery partners to maximize conservation outcomes.