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Five facts about good zoos

1 October 2015

Each day passionate staff in good zoos care for wildlife, many of which are on the brink of extinction.

We are in the midst of a global extinction crisis

Our world is currently losing species at an unprecedented rate, experiencing the worst loss of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

  • 21 % of all known mammals are threatened with extinction
  • 30% of all known amphibians are threatened with extinction
  • 12% of all known birds are threatened with extinction
  • 28% of all known reptiles are threatened with extinction
  • 37% of all known fresh water fish are threatened with extinction
  • 35% of all known invertebrates are threatened with extinction

Australia has an alarming rate of extinction, with the worst mammal extinction record in the world.

The plight of animals globally is something that concerns all of us. We believe that zoos, every day, play a critical role in bringing communities closer to animals and inspiring people to take actions to save wildlife.


Here are 5 facts about good zoos.



Helmeted Honeyeater
The critically endangered Helmeted Honeyeater, home to Yellingbo Conservation Nature Reserve and are one of Zoos Victoria’s 20 priority species that the organisation is working to save from imminent extinction.
Photo: Cormac Hanrahan

FACT 1: Good Zoos help fight wildlife extinction

Good zoos play a critical role in fighting extinction. One way good zoos do this, is through captive breeding and recovery programs of endangered species. Each year, good zoos contribute $350 million directly to conservation.

This contribution has an impact. A 2010 study by IUCN found that conservation breeding in zoos and aquariums played a role in the recovery of 28% of the species listed as threatened in the wild.

Overseas, zoo conservation efforts have averted the extinction of the Mountain Chicken (don’t be fooled by the name, it’s actually a frog), the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, the Blue-crowned laughing thrush, Polynesian tree snail and the Ploughshare tortoise just to name a few.

At Zoos Victoria we have increased our annual investment in direct conservation from $2.2 million to $6 million in the last five years as a direct result of our increased visitation and growing membership.

In addition, we fund conservation advocacy campaigns such as the Don’t Palm us Off campaign that have mobilized thousands of Australians in fighting the extinction of threatened species such as the orangutan.

The conservation work of good zoos is real. It is growing, and it is absolutely critical to the survival of many species. Species such as the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, Helmeted Honeyeater and Southern Corroboree Frog would now be extinct were it not for the work of good zoos and their partners.



Every year Zoos Victoria’s education program engages students from every year level, from prep to year 12 about the importance of conservation and wildlife.

FACT 2: Good zoos educate visitors

Zoos Victoria is one of the State’s largest providers of formal learning outside the classroom. Last year alone, 146,136 students embarked on learning experiences at Zoos Victoria, seeking greater connections with wildlife and the skills needed to equip our children with as they inherit stewardship of a stressed planet.

We have formally evaluated learning experiences that encourage pro-conservation attitudes. One such program tested a learning experience that introduced students to the Growling Grass Frog. At the beginning students were assessed as placing little value on the frog. After completing the program, the same students strongly believed the frog deserved the same conservation investment as the Southern White Rhino.

Zoos employ specialists to design our conservation education programs. We have had incredible success influencing people to help wildlife including:

  • 202,357 Australians have joined us in demanding palm oil labelling and access to certified sustainable palm oil
  • More than 131,000 people have donated mobile phones to help raise more than $228,000 for gorilla conservation
  • More than 178,000 pieces of Beads for Wildlife products have been purchased to support communities fight the extinction of Grevy Zebra in northern Kenya
  • An independent study found that 17% of visitors to our Spirits of the Sky show reported switching to recycled toilet paper and;
  • More than 200 Seal the Loop bins along the Victoria bay to help reduce marine wildlife entanglement (to which we responded to more than 57 wild seal entanglements through the AGL Marine Response Unit in the last two years alone).



Zoos Victoria has over 600 staff and over 650 volunteers dedicated to fighting the extinction of some of our most endangered species both locally and internationally.
Photo: Will Watt

FACT 3: Good zoos attract good people

Good zoos attract compassionate, committed and skilled people. Ask them why they do what they do, chances are it is because they love animals and want to see species safe in the wild.

At our zoos, we have a number of staff who know what it is like to witness an extinction event. It is devastating and soul-destroying. Yet it drives them to go to great lengths for every individual in their care.

In 2003, invertebrate keepers brought “Adam” and “Eve” to Melbourne Zoo; male and female Lord Howe Island Stick Insects that were rediscovered clinging to Balls Pyramid after being considered extinct more than 70 years earlier. In an effort to ensure the survival of Adam and Eve, a cryptic species thought to be extinct, staff attended to their health round the clock for weeks on end. When Eve fell ill, staff nursed her back to health. Thanks to them she recovered and went on to lay 248 eggs securing hope for this species.

This is not an isolated example. This standard of care happens every day in good zoos.



Eastern Barred Bandicoots are extinct in the wild but survive only in captive populations and protected areas. Zoos Victoria has spent more than 20 years working with the Bandicoots to repopulate them in the wild. They are one of the organisation’s 20 priority species that require urgent help to survive.
Photo: Will Watt

FACT 4: Four of Australia’s leading zoos are not-for-profit

Many Zoos in Australia do not operate for profit, including, Taronga, Perth, Adelaide and Zoos Victoria.

The business model of a good zoo is to grow income in order to invest it in conservation and the welfare of the animals in our care. We do not have shareholders, apart from the wildlife and the communities that we serve.

Zoos Victoria has deductible gift recipient status and we strive to generate income so that we can better serve the animals in our care and the increasing number of threatened species that require our help including the Baw Baw Frog, Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby and Orange-bellied Parrot. We also generate income to make our zoos as accessible, welcoming and friendly as possible for our community.

Good zoos also attract a dedicated and passionate volunteer base. At Zoos Victoria, more than 650 volunteers donate their time to help us further the reach of our fighting extinction goals by educating our zoo visitors giving tours, general information and applying their specialist knowledge to engage visitors helping them to take action to save wildlife.



FACT 5: Good zoos constantly strive for better and better animal welfare

Animal welfare is not a secondary motive of good zoos. It is an equal first to conservation and recovery of species in the wild.

Tasmanian Devils are one of Zoos Victoria’s 20 priority species the organisation is working to save from extinction through breeding and insurance population as well as investing heavily in research to improve survival rates for devils who may be released back into the wild.

Good zoos go to every possible length to ensure the animals in their care have a full and high quality life. A large part of this includes creating situations where animals feel pleasure, happiness and contentment as well as mental stimulation.

The care of animals in zoos needs to be based on a comprehensive understanding of individual animal needs. In good zoos, this is achieved through extensive scientific research focussing on the assessment of animal welfare, including behavioural monitoring and physiological analysis such as sampling hormone concentrations. Animal welfare science is developing fast, and we are using the science to improve our ability to keep our animals happy, healthy and ensure they have a rich and full life. To assist us with keeping ahead of the curve, we have a full-time animal welfare expert who works with teams across our zoos on cutting-edge research and care.

Good zoos must be transparent and accountable about the welfare of the animals in their care. Many leading zoos have an animal welfare code and publicly report on animal welfare. At Zoos Victoria we have an independent animal welfare peer review committee and separate independent animal ethics committee, both of which oversee our research and animal welfare work.


Now is the time to support good zoos

With species on the brink of extinction, the work of good zoos is becoming increasingly important. And that is why now, more than ever, is the time to support good zoos.


How you can support good zoos