EL PASO, Texas - Zoos are more than exhibits to entertain people on a sunny day. ABC-7 explores the work being done right here in El Paso to save species in danger of disappearing.
Whether you marvel at the tigers or sit and watch the tortoises have a snack, you can also think about the life work happening before your eyes.
“We are actively involved in saving animals from extinction,” said El Paso zoo director Steve Marshall.
Marshall told ABC-7 that, out of the 650 animals the zoo houses, about 25 of them are in danger of disappearing.
“We are breeding endangered species. We’re helping reintroduce them into the wild,” Marshall said.
Those animals include the Asian wild horse.
Several years ago, the only places the horses were found were in zoos or in the hands of private breeders.
“We bred these animals and have been re-releasing them in the grasslands of Mongolia,” Marshall said.From Mongolia to the mountains of New Mexico and throughout the Southwest, the El Paso Zoo is working with the federal government and other conservation organizations to help bring back Mexican wolves.
“They were completely exterminated from the wild,” Marshall said.
Marshall told ABC-7 that zoo staff often help when there’s a conservation crisis anywhere in the world.
“We’ve sent staff to Indonesia to help at orangutan orphanages,” Marshall said.
More recently, staff helped save radiated tortoises found in Madagascar.
“There were 3,000 confiscated animals that were about to go to the illegal pet trade found in a warehouse and they were in desperate need of food and water and medical care and we took part in that and sent a staff member for two weeks,” Marshall said.
Some argue that animals should not be held captive in zoos. Marshall's answer: zoos are the only home some species have left.
“The No.1 reason to have a zoo isn’t to breed endangered species to reintroduce them because there’s no place to put them back, in many cases,” Marshall said.
That’s why Marshall said promoting conservation awareness is a priority.
“People have a stewardship responsibility for the resources on this planet, which include the living things that share the earth with us," Marshall said.
With the collaborative efforts of the El Paso Zoo and other accredited zoos, hundreds of animals once extinct in the wild have been reintroduced into their habitats.
If you would like to learn more about the El Paso Zoo's efforts to save endangered animals and find out how you can help, click here.