Look this way!
We are delighted that so many people are interested in our animals and contact us to ask questions about them. We want to provide even more information about our activities, and to this end we have listed a few frequent questions about the work at Borås Zoo.
Why are your breeding projects so important?
Through our membership in the European and the Swedish zoo associations (EAZA and SAZA), Borås Zoo conducts conservation work in relation to 21 species that are threatened at a European level and 3 Nordic threatened species. The breeding work of zoos in relation to threatened species is incredibly important, and there are several examples of species that would not have survived were it not for zoo animals (Arabian oryx, Przewalski’s horse, golden-headed lion tamarin etc.). One example is the European bison, where we have recently participated in the largest ever reintroduction in the wild. European Bison are currently reintroduced in the Caucasus in Russia thanks to the WWF project. More information is available here: https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/blekinge/sjutton-visenter-flyttar-fran-blekinge-till-ryssland?cmpid=del%3Afb%3A20171219%3Asjutton-visenter-flyttar-fran-blekinge-till-ryssland%3Anyh%3Alp
Why is it important for the animals to breed?
The animals reproduce because the species functions well biologically in our zoo. It is important to offer the animals a variation of normal behaviours, and reproduction with associated birth and caring for the young is a major part thereof. If this is opposed by prohibiting the killing of surplus animals and advocating routine use of contraceptives, animals are deprived of many important behaviours. This may lead to changes in the group dynamics, social stress and permanent infertility, which limits the survival of the species in the long term. We like to draw attention to the birth of young animals, but are careful to emphasise the context which the species is a part of. We are transparent in relation to the various alternatives available for the young animal’s future; and unfortunately, just like in nature, not all animals will live to achieve adulthood. The species we keep differ greatly from us humans because they become sexually mature and “adult” much earlier – some already in the first year of their life.
What can you do if you wish to ensure certain animals don’t breed?
There are a few alternatives, some of which are: give birth control pills, as we do in our lion group where we have decided to let just one of the lion females have cubs. Split the animal group before the youngest become sexually mature, as with our young female lions who will move to a zoo in England this winter. Surgical castration; as with our old bison bull who is still part of the group even though we have a new breeding bull. Use a contraceptive implant as we did with our young orang-utan female as she has become sexually mature before she will move to her new home in Barcelona. It is also possible to separate the animals, as we did with young bears who were in a different hibernating den than their parents before moving to their new home in France in the spring. As mentioned above, there are many reasons why these alternatives are only used in exceptional cases.
Are the animals captive born?
Most of our animals are born and grew up in a zoo, and have parents who were also born and grew up in a zoo. The situation was different around 30-40 years ago, but today it is very unusual for individuals to be collected from the wild, although it happens occasionally. At Borås Zoo we have a wolverine male called Tjokko who was born in the mountains of Jämtland county in 2006. In the winter 2005/2006, some Sami villages in the area were granted a permit to cull a small number of wolverine females. Instead of being killed, the young of these females were taken care of and grew up with “foster mothers” in Swedish zoos. One of these young wolverines was Tjokko, who is now an old, but healthy breeding male at Borås Zoo. In the breeding programmes (more information about EEP is available at: http://www.eaza.net/conservation/programmes/) zoos work actively to maintain genetically healthy populations of various species without collecting animals from the wild. We work to achieve the reverse, namely for zoo populations to function as a resource and a reserve in relation to the wild populations. Our animals that we currently keep would most certainly find it hard to adapt to a life in the wild; especially predators who have lost their shyness of humans. Different strategies are required for different species to succeed with reintroduction, and this takes place successively and sometimes over several generations. We work purposefully to ensure that future generations are as healthy as possible, and the key to success is for them to continue having young and know how to take care of them. Unfortunately, it is highly likely that it will nevertheless be impossible to reintroduce animals of species that are on the brink of extinction in 25-30 years into what we currently term “the wild”. The natural habitats of the animals are exploited to an increasing extent by humans, and many species will not be able to exist outside protected/restricted areas. Did you know that if poaching continues at the current rate, there will be no rhinoceroses, elephants or giraffes in the world in 30 years? More information is available on WWF’s website: http://www.wwf.se/
Why do zoos keep animals that are not endangered?
We rarely introduce new species that are not endangered, other than domestic animals. We work based on a long-term plan, which is updated every year and constitutes a framework and a tool for controlling the planning of animal stocks in the short and long term. Our zoological team discusses the long-term management of the zoo’s species and the regional collection plan, the recommendations we receive from the species coordinators, conservation programmes for specific species (EEP) and ethical rules for the activities developed within the EAZA and SAZA. Many relevant factors are analysed and weighed when we decide what species to keep in the zoo. Historically, species have come and gone in the zoo, and in the longer term the need to keep several endangered species will likely increase. Some species have a historical and educational value (e.g. the moose) and may be symbols of a certain natural type or a certain eco-system, which may in turn be endangered. If it is possible to use such a species to spread knowledge about and commitment to larger issues such as environmental threats, there is considerable value in keeping it. Non-endangered animals also fulfil a relevant educational value and create concern through the possibility of close contact, which legitimises their presence in the zoo. Especially among children, physical contact with animals can contribute to improved understanding of and respect for animals and nature, both in our vicinity and in more distant countries. At Borås Zoo, we believe that the will to change a behaviour is created by being involved and by caring, and that we can offer an opportunity to achieve this.
Why do your animals have so many young compared to the same species in the wild?
Our animals are protected from many illnesses by vaccination and other preventive measures. They are examined, treated and medicated where needed. The animals don’t need to fight for their territories and are not hunted. They are fed optimally and are also given vitamin and mineral supplements. The conditions in nature are tough, which means most animals you see at Borås Zoo would not exist in the wild. Did you know that 30,000 lions in Africa kill around 2,000 of their own species every year? Or that many of the animals who die in nature are less than one year old? Only around every fifth lion cub survives in the wild, and most of the deaths occur within the first two years of life. Since the animals have much more favourable conditions in our Zoo, the survival rate is considerably higher, which also results in more young reaching sexual maturity and adulthood. Unfortunately we cannot place all young, such as, for example, lion cubs, and we strive to ensure that the timing of killing surplus animals is at a biological junction, i.e., when they would have been expelled from or left their flock.
What happens to the animals who do not remain in your Zoo?
As a member of EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) we undertake to ensure that other zoos to which our animals are moved comply with the minimum requirements of the organisation. Some domestic animals (goats, pigs etc.) may be sold to private holders. Ungulate animals, birds and rabbits are also used as feed for the predators in the Zoo, just as in nature (see below). All decisions to euthanise animals are preceded by ethical discussions and a systematic number of considerations involving multiple actors, i.e. species coordinator where applicable; zoologist, veterinarian and animal keepers. This is discussed openly with our visitors and students. Animals are euthanised with a minimum of stress and pain in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act. Pupils and students participate – as well as in the subsequent autopsy and feeding, if applicable. It is increasingly important to explain the connection between life and death in a world where many are increasingly removed from nature in their everyday life.
How do you feed your animals?
We have many different species with a variety of feeding requirements. Therefore, the nutritional programme is adapted specifically to the species and the individual. We strive to feed animals without palm oil or soya. Our predators eat meat, and every year we are able to use around 30 animals bred in the Zoo to feed our threatened predator species. These animals are, of course, healthy, like the animals we eat, and like the animals that is part of our cats’ and dogs’ feed at home. The fact that the origin of the feed animals is known and that they do not need to be transported to a slaughterhouse is an advantage from a stress, environmental and infectious protection perspective. Feed with pure meat can lead to chronic gastrointestinal problems and deficiency diseases; therefore, sometimes we feed entire surplus animals including skins and bones.
How do you acquire animals from other zoos?
There is no trade going on between us and other zoos, rather this is a question of so-called breeding loans and donations. The receiving party usually cover the expenses of the transport. In the old days, animals were often bought and sold via animal traders, but this is outdated, and we do not engage in such practices. We do not automatically swap animals with each other, but movements are coordinated by a species coordinator/stud-book keeper, as it is important that the right genes are in the right place at the right time for the species to have a chance to survive in the long run.
Can vegans and/or members of animal rights organisations visit your Zoo?
Of course. Our predators eat meat – we can’t change that. However, among our employees there are both vegetarians and vegans, as well as meat eaters. Several of our employees are prior pupils or students whose view of zoos changed after spending time in our Zoo, and therefore applied to work here. At Borås Zoo we care a great deal about our animals, and our visitors can see that. It is important to us that our predators are fed meat that comes from animals who had a good life and were slaughtered at home in the stable without stressful transport. Animal keepers who fed these animals every day and sometimes witnessed its birth are with the animals until the end. We trust our pupils to participate in this process, and several among them are vegans and members of various animal rights organisations. This has not given rise to any negative consequences despite the power of social media these days, which says a great deal. Everyone usually wants to participate and touch, and then help feed the predators. For many, this is the only contact with death they ever had and may ever have, and it touches us all deeply.
How do you train your animals?
Our work with the animals is based on positive reinforcement. We work mainly on a “hands-off” basis, in other words our animals are not domesticated. The behaviours that are stimulated in training complement the daily examination of the animal’s welfare (lift leg/feet, open mouth, place yourself in a certain way, etc.) and function in a similar way as when you stimulate a cat, bird or horse at home. For educational purposes, we show these daily movements and inform our visitors about the situation of the species in the wild, at the same time as we provide the animals with important mental stimulation. We do not have animal performances for entertainment purposes. Thanks to our animal keepers’ preventive work in relation to environmental enrichment, we see few stress-related problems in our animals. Those who work with us – animal keepers, zoologists, biologists and veterinaries, are all specially trained in taking care of zoo animals.
Do you contribute to research?
Yes – very much so! Currently, we have international and national research cooperation with universities in, for example, Lund, Linköping and Johannesburg. This involves many research areas: from the sense of taste of chimpanzees to elephants’ sleep patterns and the feeding habits of tigers. Did you know that material from our dead animals is used in research that benefits both humans and wildlife? Find more information under the tab “Research”.
Are there good and bad zoos?
Absolutely. The difference is as great between a serious and a bad zoo as between proper breeding of assistant dogs and “puppy factories” who smuggle and sell sick dogs. Each animal husbandry system must be adapted to satisfy animal protection and welfare as far as possible, whether the animal is kept as a companion, for drug trials, at a riding school, for food production, at a zoo or for competition and exhibition purposes, etc. For example, in our Zoo we see no respiratory problems due to incorrect breeding of dogs, and urinary tract problems among cats or colic among horses are extremely rare. However, we pay attention to the risk of overweight since the animal’s ability to move is limited and make sure their environment is constantly renewed so that it does not get too monotonous. Our animal keepers spend a large part of their working hours preparing various environmental enrichments. We who work at Borås Zoo view zoo activities with critically constructive eyes and have chosen a workplace that we can influence and where the most important functions of a zoo are in focus. We are highly aware of our strengths and weaknesses and not afraid to discuss them. We receive university students who are studying animal welfare and veterinary medicine as well as animal keeper students. Several of them will enter a professional function, with limited experience, where they will control and assist zoos. We discuss our operations with them with transparency, and discuss both well functioning and less well functioning aspects. Many pupils say that they have gained a completely different understanding of and insight into how a serious zoo works after spending time in our Zoo.