Zoos choose whether entire species live or die, reports the New York Times. Many species face extinction and zoos are asked to preserve the most endangered. This is a decision fraught with conflict betwen their need to entertain the public and a species survival.
The Times continues, "To conserve animals effectively, however, zoo officials have concluded that they must winnow species in their care and devote more resources to a chosen few. The result is that zookeepers, usually animal lovers to the core, are increasingly being pressed into making cold calculations about which animals are the most crucial to save. Some days, the burden feels less like Noah building an ark and more like Schindler making a list."
Dr. Steven L. Monfort, the director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute states "that model is broken. There needs to be an explicit role for zoos to champion species.” "Less emphasis should be placed on animals that are popular attractions" he says and be "replaced with animals in desperate need of rescuing."
Zoo directors who face pressure from preservationists and who have to keep the zoo business viable seem to be either resisting the pressure or trying to strike a balance. The St. Louis Zoo, for example, breeds black-and-white ruffed lemurs inan effort to keep them going.
Mr. Merz, St. Louis' zoo’s manager says selecting species worth saving is like life-or-death gambling. “It is like looking out the window of an airplane and seeing the rivets in the wing,” he said. “You can probably lose a few, but you don’t know how many, and you really don’t want to find out.”
Source: The New York Times