Conservation is defined as the "official supervision of rivers, forests, and other natural resources in order to preserve and protect them through prudent management." Zoos, aquariums, and wildlife organizations around the world work together to preserve and protect as many species of plants and animals as possible.
Zoos around the world promote conservation as one of their main purposes, many including it as part of their mission statement. The main focus of many zoos is education, focusing on specific species, their habitats, and their related conservation issues. By educating individuals, zoos can give them an emotional connection to wildlife and engage them in conservation initiatives.
The Zoo provides a variety of conservation information at its annual Party for the Planet event, teaching children about the benefits of wildlife that lives in their backyard, how they can be more earth-friendly in daily activities, and giving great ideas for how to help our local wildlife.
The Red River Zoo also facilitates opportunities for individuals to help with conservation efforts. For example, each year Zoo staff takes a group of students to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, where birds are counted and documented around the continent. This data is then used by researchers and scientists.
Another major way in which zoos contribute to wildlife conservation is through the extensive captive breeding programs that are conducted nationally and internationally. Captive breeding provides a means for conserving species that may not survive in the wild. The goal of most captive breeding programs for endangered species is to establish captive population that are large enough to be demographically stable and genetically healthy.
Zoos have space for only a limited number of animals, so maintaining a healthy population means that zoos and aquariums must work cooperatively to manage their animals collections as one large breeding population. In North America, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) coordinates the Species Survival Program (SSP) that oversees the populations of endangered species. The Red River Zoo participates in several of the SSPs, such as the programs for Chinese red pandas and white-naped cranes.
Some zoos are also able to participate in reintroduction programs where animals are bred in captivity and then released into the wild. The San Diego Zoo played a key rold in re-introducing the California condor into the wild. Several zoos, including the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the Smithsonian's National Zoo, worked together to re-introduce over 700 black-footed ferrets. The Toledo Zoo bred and released the Karner blue butterfly after it had disappeard from Ohio.
AZA and its accredited zoos and aquariums also have a strong commitment to scientific research, both basic and applied. These organizations have a unique opportunity to conduct and facilitate research, both in their facilities and in the wild. By furthering the scientific knowledge and understanding of animals, zoo and aquariums are able to enhance the conservation of wild populations.
For example, the San Diego Zoo began working with the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog in 2006 when less than 200 adults were left. After two years of breeding attempts resulting in only one surviving frog, the staff at San Diego changed their protocol and introduced a hibernation period, similar to the frog's natural hibernation, as well as separation of males and females. This resulted in a clutch of eggs being laid within 6 hours of reintroduction. These successful findings are then shared with hundreds of other professionals to help further their breeding efforts as well.
Zoos also conduct extensive field research, encompassing a wide range of issues on the ecology, behavior, physiology, and genetics of wild populations, all with the focus of imporving conservation efforts. Their research involves a variety of on-the-ground activities such as population monitoring, invasive species management, headstarting and releasing individual animals, translocation, and reintroduction.
All of these efforts are working together, from every possible attack position, to defend and fight for the animals with whom we share our planet.