Stop denigration: Zoos have never been so critical for science and species conservation!

The World Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has just ended in Marseille. It brought together thousands of specialists and environmentalists from all over the world, all present to address the terrible state of our biodiversity. 30% of the 138,374 species assessed on the IUCN experts’ Red List are now in danger of extinction.

And in this race against time, IUCN has emphasized again that all conservation actors must mobilize to fight against the loss of biodiversity. Including zoological institutions. A few meters from the French pavilion, where Mrs. Barbara Pompili, Minister of Ecological Transition, spoke on several occasions, one could discover the actions of the members of the World (WAZA), European (EAZA) and French Zoological Parks Associations (AFdPZ), in nature (“in situ”) and within their facilities (“ex situ”). Zoos are at the heart of the movement called “Reverse the Red” initiated by the IUCN to fight against the extinction of species, a program based on scientific facts and the union of conservation knowledge and resolute optimism on a global scale. Their slogan: “We KNOW how to save species, We BELIEVE we can, TOGETHER we will”.

In France, dolphins and orcas, has been at the center of an unproductive debate for more than seven years which pits animalist ideology against a vision based on observable facts and measurable findings (ensuring the well-being of animals). The last episode, of what looks more and more like a serial novel, was the announcement in October 2020 by Mrs. Pompili that, within seven years, dolphins will be removed from zoos and moved to so-called “sanctuaries”, without specifying what is meant or any scientific guarantees for their future well-being.

We, the signatories of this statement, witness the good conditions for animals in modern zoos and their importance to raising awareness with a vast public audience about the growing threats they face in the natural environment, especially dolphins and porpoises. According to the most recent IUCN assessment by the Whales/Dolphins Working Group (IUCN CSG, 2021), 46% of the world’s whales and dolphins are now considered vulnerable, severely threatened, or threatened with extinction. In 2006, the Chinese dolphin or Baiji was declared extinct; in 2017, there were only 92 Irawady dolphins remaining in the Mekong River; in October 2019, there were only 9 Vaquita porpoises left in the Gulf of California; in November the same year in Brazil, there were only 600 Lahile Tursiops dolphins left; and, in Africa, the population of Atlantic humpback dolphins is reduced by half each year. It is estimated that bycatch in nets kills more than 4000 La Plata dolphins in South America, and, closer to us, on the French coast, 10.000 common dolphins … every year.

We, ethologists, veterinarians, biologists, specialists in the anatomy and cognition of delphinids, have been actively contributing, some of us for more than 60 years, to increasing knowledge about these animals. Energy needs, reproduction, maternal care, perception of the environment (with, for example, the discovery and ongoing study on sonar) or the modelling of the impact of pollution are examples, among many others, of major contributions made by zoological institutions to better understand the physiology and behavior of these animals that support appropriate tools and protection measures to assist wild populations. Within the IUCN, the leading specialists in the safeguarding of cetaceans have joined in a working group, the ICPC (Integrated Conservation Planning for Cetaceans), that recommends a list of concrete actions for the benefit of cetaceans. As with other animals, these researchers are following the “One Plan Approach”, i.e. seeking to mobilize all marine mammal specialists present in the field and/or in zoological institutions.

We, scientists specializing in the study of marine mammals and their protection, co-sign this forum to emphasize that this scientific potential must not only be preserved, but encouraged at a time when this work is recognized as indispensable by the highest authorities on international environmental protection.

We co-sign this statement to share our concern about the future of the French dolphins that are hosted and reproduce naturally in modern zoological institutions. More than 90% of these individuals were born there; capture of wild cetaceans has been prohibited in Europe for more than 30 years. Neither the bill soon to be discussed in the Senate, nor the Ministry’s announcements identify any housing option as convincing as that already provided by modern zoological institutions.

We co-sign this statement because the numerous smear campaigns against zoological institutions, especially those caring for cetaceans, are increasingly taking the general public’s attention away from our real common challenge: stopping the loss of biodiversity on land and at sea.

Let us not mix animalism and environmental protection. Let us base our decisions on a complete and realistic picture of the current biodiversity crisis. Rather than banning and destroying, let us work on a legal framework that guarantees the well-being of animals in zoos and encourages ever more research to support conservation. This is how we understand the many messages and hopeful statements that were made at the World Conservation Congress held in Marseille.

  • Dr. Javier Almunia, Directeur de la Fondation Loro Parque et Président de l’Association des Zoos et Aquariums Ibériques
  • Dr. Elizabeth Ames Audra, responsable de la bioacoustique pour la fondation Oceanogràfic
  • Pr. Mats Amundin, zoologiste et coordinateur du Static Acoustic Monitoring of the Baltic Sea Harbour Porpoise (SAMBAH) Association Française des Parcs Zoologiques (AFdPZ)
  • Pr. Gordon B. Bauer, Professeur Emérite au New College of Florida
  • Dr. Jörg Beckmann, Directeur Biologique, vice-directeur du zoo de Nürnberg
  • Msc. Christian Bergler, Pattern Recogntion Lab de la FA Universität
  • DVM et Dr. Barbara Biancani, chercheuse à la University of Padova
  • Pr. Kristy L. Biolsi, Directeur du Center for the Study of Pinniped Ecology & Cognition (C-SPEC) – St. Francis College
  • Msc. Martin Boye, Directeur Scientifique de Planète Sauvage et Président de Planète Sauvage Nature
  • Msc. Sabrina Brando, Directrice de Animal Concepts et spécialiste du bien-être animal
  • Isabelle Brasseur, Directrice recherche, conservation et éducation du Marineland, Antibes
  • Dr. Jason Bruck, Professeur assistant en Biologie de la Stephen F. Austin State University
  • Andrea D. Cabrera, Vice-président de la Fundación Mundo Marino
  • DVM Rocio Canales Merino, vétérinaire mammifères marins de Mundomar
  • Pr. Emeritus Richard C. Connor, chercheur au Biology Department UMASS-Dartmouth
  • Art Cooper, Vice-Président et Directeur des Operations du Dolphin Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR)
  • Nancy Cooper, Présidente du Dolphin Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR)
  • Dr. James Danoff-Burg, Directeur de la Conservation au Living Desert Zoo and Gardens ecoordinateur du programme de sauvetage du marsouin Vaquita
  • Danny De Mann, EAZA Directeur pour la Conservation et la gestion des Populations pour l’Association Européenne des Zoos et Aquariums
  • Dr. Alice De Moura Lima, Biologiste à Ecosul turismo
  • DVM Maria Delclaux, Responsable animalière et Vétérinaire au Zoo Aquarium de Madrid
  • Dr. Fabienne Delfour, Ethologue chez Animaux et compagnie
  • Pr. Bertrand Deputte, chercheur à l’Unité d’éthologie de Maison Alfort
  • Dr. Kathleen Dudzinski, Directrice du Dolphin Communication Project & Editrice de Aquatic Mammals Journal
  • Dr. Andreas Fahlman, Responsable du programme de recherche et conservation pour la Fundacion Oceanografic
  • DVM Adrian Faiella, Directrice Vétérinaire de l’Aquarium Mar del Plata
  • DVM Delphine Féjan, Vétérinaire Mammifères marins
  • Dr. Daniel Garcia Párraga, chercheur et Directeur Technique de la Fundacion Oceanografic
  • Dr. Rodrigo Cezar Genoves, chercheur au Marine Megafauna Ecology and Conservation
  • Laboratory (ECOMEGA) de la Federal University of Rio Grande
  • DVM Claudia Gili, Présidente du Marine Mamal tag de l’Association Européenne des Zoos et Aquariums
  • Robert Gojceta, Coordinateur du programme européen du suivi de la population du grand dauphin pour l’Association Européenne des Zoos et Aquariums
  • Pr. Heidi E. Harley, Directrice du département Environmental Studies au New College of Florida
  • DVM, MSc Martin Haulena, Vétérinaire en chef et Directrice de la Santé Animale au Vancouver Aquarium
  • Pr. Heather Hill, Professeure au Department of Psychology, St Mary University
  • Dr. Sandra Honigs, Directrice adjointe de l’Aquazoo Löbbecke Museum
  • MSc. Jakob Højer Kristensen, chercheur et biologiste, expert mammifères marins indépendant.
  • MSc. Tim Huettner, chercheur à la University of Rostock et au Zoo de Nuremberg
  • DVM Marina Ivancic, Vétérinaire et Radiologiste mammifères marins au American College of Veterinary Radiology
  • Dr. Kelly Jaakkola, Directrice de Recherche au Dolphin Research Center
  • Prof. Jorg Junhold, Président de l’Association Allemande des Jardins Zoologiques
  • Dr. Thomas Kauffels, Président de l’Association Européenne des Zoos et Aquariums,
  • Président du Comité des Membres de l’Association Mondiale des Zoos et Aquariums
  • Dr. Stéphanie King, Maitre de Conférence du collège de Biologie à la University of Bristol
  • DVM Geraldine Lacave,Vétérinaire spécialiste des Mammifères Marins chez Marine Mammal Veterinary Service
  • DVM Augustin Lopez Goya, Directeur biologique au Zoo Aquarium de Madrid
  • DVM Juan Pablo Loureiro, vétérinaire spécialiste de la reproduction à la Marine World Foundation
  • Prof. Andreas Maier du Pattern Recogntion Lab de la Friedrich-Alexander-Universität
  • Dr. Radhika N. Makecha, Professeur Agrégé en Recherche et Psychologie animale de la Eastern Kentucky University
  • Pr. Xavier Manteca, Professeur en comportement et bien-être animal à la Autonomous University of Barcelona
  • Dr. Lance Miller, Vice President de la Conservation Science and Animal Welfare Research de la Chicago Zoological Society
  • DVM Tania Monreal Vétérinaire Faune Sauvage du International Zoo Vet Group
  • DVM Baptiste Mulot, Responsable vétérinaire au ZooParc de Beauval et Directeur de la recherche de Beauval Nature
  • Dr. Shawn R. Noren, chercheur au Institute of Marine Science, University of California at Santa Cruz
  • Prof. Elmar Nöth du Pattern Recogntion Lab à la FA Universität
  • DVM Florence Ollivet, Vétérinaire en exercice Faune Sauvage et Exotique. Chevalier dans l’ordre national du Mérite.
  • Pr. Theo Pagel, President de la World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
  • Dr. Christina Pilenga, Responsable Scientifique à Zoomarine Italy
  • DVM – ECZM Romain Potier, Vétérinaire spécialisé faune Sauvage
  • Pr. Eduardo R. Sechi, chercheur au Marine megafauna Ecology and Conservation Laboratory – Federal University of Rio Grande
  • Prof. Ursula Siebert, Vétérinaire spécialiste de la faune sauvage, Spécialiste certifiée en Faune Sauvage et protection des espèces à Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research (ITAW) de la University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover
  • Dr. Jochen Reiter, Directeurde l’Aquazoo Löbbecke Museum
  • Pr. Sam Ridgway, professeur Emérite, département de Pathologie de l’USCD, Président de la National Marine Mammal Foundation
  • DVM Umberto Romani Cremaschi, Vétérinaire à Mundomar
  • DVM Guillermo J. Sánchez Contreras, Responsable du Département vétérinaire et scientifique du Mediterraneo Marine Park
  • Dr. Agathe Serres, chercheuse à l’Institute of Deep-Sea Science and Engineering
  • DVM Claire Simeone, Présidente du Marine Mammal Conservationist Sea Change Health
  • Dr. Ralph Simon, Chercheur associéau Nuremberg Zoo et à la Antwerp University
  • DVM Arlete Sogorb, Vétarinaire spécialiste des mammifères marins.
  • DVM et Dr. Oriol Tallo-Parra Chercher en bien-être animal, au Zoo Animal Welfare Education Centre (ZAWEC) à la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
  • Dr Barbara Taylor, Vice Presidente du Integrated Conservation Planning for Cetaceans of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group
  • Msc Sara Torres Ortiz, chercheuse au Max Planck institute.
  • DVM Forrest I. Townsend Jr., Vétérinaire au Marine mammal veterinarian Gulfarium
  • DVM Pam Tuomi, Vétérinaire émérite au Alaska SeaLIfe Center
  • Dr. Mark R. Turner, chercheur au Dolphin Communication Analytics
  • DVM et Dr. Niels Van Elk, Vétérinaire et chercheur indépendant spécialiste des mammifères marins
  • Dr. Elio Vicente, Directeur scientifique de la Fondation Zoomarine
  • Dr. Lorenzo Von Fersen, responsable Recherche et Conservation au Nürnberg zoo et Président de Yaqu Pacha
  • Dr. Randall S. Wells, Vice-Président du Marine Mammal Conservation et
  • Directeur du CZS’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program
  • Dr. José Zamorano-Abramson, Chercheur au Grupo de Psicobiología Social, Evolutiva y Comparada du Departamento de Psicobiología y Metodología en Ciencias del Comportamiento de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid
  • Stephanie Zech, responsable du Studbook pour le South American Fur Seal au Zoo Dortmund
  • DVM et Dr Martin Zordan, Chef de la Direction de la World Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Pr. – Professeur
Dr – Docteur en Sciences
DVM – Docteur en Médecine Vétérinaire

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