By Sophia Nicolov and Andy Flack, University of Bristol, for the Animal History Museum On Jan. 25, Denmark's Copenhagen Zoo, announced the birth of a southern white rhinoceros calf. For the zoo, the birth of a calf of this subspecies for the first time in thirty-five years is hugely significant for reasons related to its own self interests. It marks the zoo out as "successful" and generally leads to greater visitor numbers.
Beyond that however, for zoos which have increasingly shifted focus from simply warehousing animals to playing an active role in species preservation - and perhaps for the public at large - they are emblems of something more profound. The calf born at Copenhagen Zoo last week represents a result for conservation programs, as well as translating the idealism of conservation into practical reality. But the practical reality of zoo-based conservation programs can sometimes be unpalatable. Last year, the Copenhagen Zoo provoked global outrage when it euthanized a number of its healthy animals supposedly to improve the genetic health of the species in captivity.