On my recent visit to New York, I made a trip to the Bronx Zoo.

On my recent visit to New York, I made a trip to the Bronx Zoo. For years I have loved visiting zoos and while my children were young, we took advantage of the family zoo pass which is transferrable to many zoos across the country. Zoos have long played a role in wildlife education and conservation; that undertaking is more important today than ever.

The Bronx Zoo is also a leader in wildlife conservation and the headquarters for the Wildlife Conservation Society. The WCS is working with local officials in Malaysia to stop people from hunting exotic birds for their feathers.

"We have to learn how to live in harmony with the animals around us and how to just think a little bit more before we do certain things," said Sara S. Marinello, of the WCS.

According to Teacher.Scholastic.com, "The San Diego Zoo just opened the Conservation and Research for Endangered Species Center. The $22 million center gives scientists cutting-edge instruments and plenty of room to do their work. The California zoo is famous for its work helping to save China's giant panda. Three panda cubs have been born at the zoo already. The San Diego Zoo now has the largest population of giant pandas outside mainland China. But the zoo has many other projects few people hear about. Scientists with the zoo are working to save iguanas in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. They study African wild dogs in Zambia, and forest birds in Hawaii.

Farmers in Africa think the spotted cheetah is an annoying pest. So they trap and kill them. Now cheetahs are in danger of disappearing forever. The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. is trying to change that through the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, Africa. Scientists there are showing farmers that they don't have to kill cheetahs to keep them off their farms."

Several world-wide endangered species are no longer found in the wild, but only in zoos, such as the Guam Micronesian kingfisher. Their decline was due to a non-native brown snake which escaped to the island from a naval ship during WWII. In 1985, a consortium of U.S. zoos went to Guam, the U.S.-owned Pacific island protectorate, to capture the island's last 29 wild native kingfishers — brilliantly colored blue & orange, robin-sized birds – to start a captive breeding rescue effort. By the 1990's, 60 of the birds were living in zoos across the country. An initial problem in which young birds were dying was solved by research and proved to be diet-related. The population is now up to 134 birds – all found in zoos.

Further, it has been through zoos' education, research, and captive breeding programs that many other species have been kept from extinction or becoming endangered. According to Kelly Traw, Scientific American, "…the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's Species Survival Plan Program and related programs have helped bring black-footed ferrets, California condors, red wolves and several other endangered species back from the brink of extinction over the last three decades."
You can aid in the effort of bringing back endangered species by supporting zoos, or organizations that fund saving habitats in which the species thrive.

Lynn Youngblood is a Kansas City-based naturalist.