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Zoo Biology 16:1-2

(1997)

GUEST EDITORIAL

The Conservation of
Species-Typical Behaviors
For a few readers the title may seem like a complex oxymoron,
but most zoo
biologists will recognize that being born of a species is not a guarantee that appropriate behaviors will emerge. Even the most doctrinaire adaptationists
now acknowledge the role of the contemporary
environment
in determining
different expressions
of typical responses. In todays milieu, most zoos, aquariums,
and theme parks are
no longer seen as menageries designed expressly to entertain visitors. Instead, there
is dedication
to conservation
and education of visitors with respect to the rapidly
diminishing
diversity of species. How shall these goals best be served? Currently,
they are ambitiously
addressed on many fronts, with extensive cataloging of lineage
and attempts to preserve diversity by identifying
and implementing
appropriate captive breeding plans. Contributions
to the frozen zoo as an ark for the preservation
of species have been widely praised. For the most part, these efforts have focused on
the conservation
of genotypes,
with the assumption
that phenotypic
expression
of
appropriately
selected and managed genes will result in animals best suited for survival. What is missed in this view is the importance
of selection at the organismal
level in perpetuating hardy individuals that will better ensure survival of their species.
There are a great number of pressures that prevent zoos from being natural
homes for a majority of species typically exhibited, as has been made clear by many
authors in this and other journals and in books. Still, there is a need to include some
of the contingencies
apparent in nature if the stated goals of modern zoos and aquariums are to be met. Visitors are no longer satisfied to watch animals that are powerless
to express their natural varieties of behavior. Neither are they stimulated to understand the need for conservation
by observing behaviorally
impotent animals which
have all the signs of institutionalization.
Moderation
in the introduction
of nature to the captive habitat is obviously
dictated by the fact that the public expects zoos and aquariums to protect and conserve
creatures in their trust. This leads to many enigmatic
situations which essentially
preclude the inclusion
of major endemic disease vectors and predators that might
ordinarily play an important role in the selection of surviving individuals.
Protection
of animals from natural pressures and dangers undoubtedly
has an effect upon the
quality of life for these creatures. Attempts to establish the best quality of life for the
individual
animal, as measured by the species-typicality
of its behavior,
will frequently lead the habitat designer and those responsible for husbandry procedures into

0 1997 Wiley-Liss,

Inc.

Markowitz

irresolvable conflict with vocal protectors of animal welfare. Paradoxically, zoos are
simultaneously condemned for failing to provide natural habitats and are expected to
treat each animal as if it were a pet. For example, there is considerable general
opposition to mixing of predator and prey because this would be unkind to the
prey.
As a consequence of these and other factors, including federal and local regulation of the care of captive animals, it is not often the case that the goals of
conservation and conservation education can be directly met in zoos and aquariums.
Indeed, there are a number of factors that bias captive animal populations in directions opposite those which might be desired if we truly wish to work towards conservation of the wild and reintroduction of appropriate species. Many of these have
been clear since the early writings of Hediger and others who have indicated that there
may be selection for docility and tameness as opposed to the wariness that typifies so
many species in the wild.
As a beginning to resolution of some of the problems in meeting the stated
objectives of zoos and aquariums, it is time to make clear to the public the need for
special reserves in which most if not all of the contingencies of nature may come into
play in the selection of hardy individuals for conservation and possible reintroduction.
Simultaneously, honesty and best hopes for making visitor-frequented institutions
better learning places require that zoos share with the public the impossibility and
undesirability of producing truly natural habitats for most captive species. Combining
this approach with enrichment programs that increase opportunities for animals to
benefit from the expression of species-typical behaviors will simultaneously provide
a platform for better education and appreciation of the species and provide opportunities for exhibition of behavioral specialization. Even if the foraging animal is
hunting for treats that keepers have stuffed in holes drilled in trees, even if the
prey that an animal captures is mechanical or acoustical rather than live, and
even if the termite mound exploration with twigs is rewarded with fruit salad
rather than termites, surely seeing animals at work in ways that are apparently attractive and rewarding to them is critically important to the animals and to the visitor
experience. Providing wonderfully natural-appearing faCades that are unresponsive to
animals should be a thing of the past, yet budgets for landscaping continue to exceed
those for the enhancement of behavioral opportunities for resident animals.
This brief editorial is a call to arms for those zoo biologists who recognize some
of the problems addressed here and who wish to explore meaningful ways to conserve
behavior as well as morphology. Careful identification of the important life contingencies for species in nature and the establishment of circumstances that allow for the
maintenance of appropriate responses to these or similar contingencies in captive
settings is essential to the conservation of species-typical behavior. And the conservation of behavior is essential to the most important and widely expressed goals of
zoos and aquariums.
Hal Markowitz
Department of Biology
San Francisco State University
San Francisco, CA

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