Zoo Quest

Zoo Quest

By Dylan Adlard (L6, S)

Earlier this week, Lower Sixth biologists were fortunate enough to attend a talk by Bristol Zoo. A popular destination for families, the 180-year-old zoo also gives outreach talks on conservation, in so doing playing a key role in educating the public about more than four hundred animal species. Even more impressively, it runs 75 endangered species breeding programmes, therefore greatly contributing to world conservation.

Miss Charlotte Knowles, Head of Biology commented, "It was important for the students to hear about in-situ and ex-situ conservation projects and the role of the zoo in this. Analysing the reasons behind the reduction in species diversity was also fascinating, provoking discussion on what can be done to tackle the issues.”

The knock-on effect of species extinction was explained, the importance of which became clear when it was described how a dying crocodile population eventually resulted in a malaria epidemic. A further surprising example was the need to use manual labour in certain parts of the world to pollinate flowers, by brushing pollen from plant to plant, as pesticides have eradicated their bee populations.

Personally, however, I found the most fascinating example of conservation at work was the reintroduction of wolves into the Yellowstone National Park. A few years after their introduction the meander patterns of rivers shifted, largely due to decreased populations of herbivores in the area. This allowed trees to grow next to riverbanks, thereby supporting the banks with their roots and minimising soil erosion. Furthermore, bird and bear migrations into the park increased.

To the delight of only some, Madagascan cockroaches were handed out, followed by a brief video on the huge economic value of sustained ecosystems throughout the world.  An endangered Egyptian tortoise was then shown around, and it was explained that in Egyptian animal markets, one tortoise from this decimated population will sell for around £20, whilst if sustainably raised in-situ in Egypt it could be sold to British pet traders for £470, and if raised and sold to the final buyer by the trader himself it will sell for up to £670.

Henry Fong (L6, H) really enjoyed the talk and mentioned, ‘aside from the live animals, what really interested me was how the addition of one species of predator into a National Park can make such a positive impact on the food chains, physical environment, and also the local ecosystem as a whole!’

The fascinating presentation was concluded with the acronym, HIPPO: Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, Population of humans, and Over-harvesting. It is a simple, but effective way to remember why the numbers of so many species are declining, resulting in them being placed on the ever-growing endangered list. 

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