Initially designed as places of entertainment for indulging our curiosity and thirst for the exotic, zoos were to become players in the conservation of animal species over the 20th century. Although they remain recreational venues, nowadays they fulfil other missions too.
A zoo for conserving biodiversity
In the early 1980s, with the realisation that biodiversity was being eroded and natural habitats destroyed, zoo leaders became aware of the role their establishments could play in the conservation of animal species. The Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle’s involvement in breeding and conservation programmes, the diversity of its fields of research, the complementary nature of its different sites and its missions as a public institution give this project a distinct identity.
The new zoo is both a player and a tool as regards educating people in respect for biodiversity. The functional, scientific and educational programme has been drawn up with zoo technicians, botanists and the Museum’s research teams.
A place for exhibiting and protecting animals
Still a place for recreation, the Parc Zoologique de Paris now fulfils several missions:
- it contributes to the conservation of species threatened by extinction through its involvement in captive breeding programmes and by funding in situ protection activities
- it offers everyone the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the major environmental challenges and the part every citizen can play
- it raises visitors’ awareness of the concept of shared space – between species and between animals and human beings – and of the delicate balance of natural habitats
- it expands knowledge of biodiversity and provides environmental education.
The first breeding programmes coordinated by zoos were launched in 1980 in North America and in 1985 in Europe, aimed at establishing long-term sustainable captive populations (100 years), with maximum genetic diversity (90%) to ensure their potential to adapt in cases where reintroduction into the wild is possible. In Europe, there are over 350 more or less intensive breeding programmes in existence. The Parc Zoologique de Paris, which already runs six of them, will participate in another 44. Thanks to these programmes, zoos have in fact established populations which are sustainable in the long term, possibly boosting wild populations and even leading to the reintroduction of species into the wild.
The Parc Zoologique de Paris contributes to this crucial conservation role: the large majority of animals on display (in fact all of them in the case of the mammals) were born in captivity and came here through exchanges under the international breeding programmes.
A place for scientific research
Zoos participate in research programmes, the results of which deepen our knowledge about animal species and benefit their conservation.
The research topics developed in the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle zoos mainly fall within conservation biology and the veterinary field. They involve a large number of disciplines.
Taxonomy and genetic research
For example, taxonomy and genetic research into populations is important to maintain the genetic variability of captive populations over time and preserve their ability to adapt to their environment. Beyond the innate, it is also vital to maintain culturally transmitted behaviour through the generations. A sphere of action closely associated with applied research into the improvement of animal welfare.
Reproductive physiology research
Keeping a species in captivity also requires research into reproductive physiology as well as building up knowledge of behavioural biology. It is also important to work on assisted reproduction techniques, especially for species with low numbers. In addition, research into gamete and embryo cryopreservation (preservation by cold) is necessary.
Another important aspect of the research developed in the zoos concerns veterinary science and in particular diet, diseases and epidemiology.
Fundamental research into evolutionary biology and ethology, which is the study of animal behaviour, is equally important. In fact, breeding management may benefit from discoveries relating to sex selection or sperm competition (competition between the spermatozoa of several males to fertilise a female’s eggs).
Finally, curatorial research adds greater value to zoo heritage and heightens the environmental awareness of visitors through education.
During the past 9 years, the work carried out in the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle’s zoos has been the subject of 65 publications in international scientific journals, as well as 87 presentations at international conferences, 16 books or chapters in books, 11 University PhD theses and a large number of veterinary and Master’s theses.