Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and romance for people across the globe, but zoos and aquariums also use the holiday to provide a glimpse into the private lives of a variety of animals – from courtship to breeding, furry, feathered and scaly creatures indulge in exotic romantic rituals. Mating and dating dances, otherwise referred to as breeding programs at American Humane Certified zoos and aquariums, play a critical role in wildlife conservation and it is important to understand why.
The very web of life on Earth is being threatened in what scientists are calling a ‘Sixth Mass Extinction,’ largely caused by the exploitation of the planet by people. Since the year 1500, more than 680 species have gone extinct and today, according to the United Nations, one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. Current species losses are driven by direct and indirect human activities, such as habitat destruction, over-fishing, illegal hunting, wildlife trafficking and poaching, as well as chemical pollution and climate change.
To think about this destruction in real time, consider that the Amazon rainforest, home to more species of plants and animals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, loses about 3 football fields’ worth of rainforest per minute. Annually, one million sharks are killed by humans and, over the last decade alone, more than one million pangolins have been killed through illegal poaching.
Working against the clock, certified zoos and aquariums are nature’s last arks of hope and as such play a key role in the dating and mating game to help to preserve animal life for generations to come. Brookfield Zoo for example, a Humane Certified facility in Chicago’s near-western suburbs, breeds the endangered Mexican gray wolf species on zoo grounds and “cross-fosters” with packs in the wild, placing puppies born at Brookfield Zoo into a wild pack in the southwest and vice versa to help increase genetic diversity. This federal wildlife program has increased the population of the Mexican wolves from 7 to nearly 400. That’s real love in action.
The Humane Certified Georgia Aquarium has a special place in its heart for endangered African penguins which it helps through its breeding program in partnership with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. This program is essential given African penguin populations have undergone a steep decline in the last three decades, resulting in a loss of nearly 65 percent since 1989, and reaching a historical new low in 2019.
Loro Parque, a Humane Certified facility located on the island of Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, is another prime example of ensuring love is able to take flight as it grew its endangered parrot population from a mere 150 birds to more than 4,000 specimens of 350 different species and subspecies of parrots. The zoological park’s efforts have directly saved ten species of parrots from extinction.
These are just a few select examples showcasing what love and dedication to animal conservation can do to help save species from extinction. While these results are amazing, they don’t come cheaply. Some $350 million is spent annually by certified and accredited zoos and aquariums to help thousands of threatened and endangered species around the world. These certified facilities are tools of wildlife conservation, but their work is far from over and cannot be done without the public’s help.
So, when you are considering what to do this valentine’s day, grab your date and visit a certified zoo or aquarium. You’ll not only be in for a treat, but you’ll be helping to ensure that love is in the air for animals too!