The European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) is considering euthanising male gorillas in European zoos because of a ‘surplus’ of these animals. Yet, in the wild, western lowland gorillas are ‘critically endangered’ according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Too many gorillas in zoos, but not enough in the wild? Fondation Franz Weber (FFW) sees this as proof that zoos do not contribute to the conservation of species in the wild.
Western lowland gorillas are under severe threat in the wild from poaching, habitat loss and disease. Their numbers have declined by nearly 60% in the last 20-25 years.
However, in European zoos, there are ‘too many’ male gorillas, especially as a result of breeding programs. EAZA member zoos hold 463 individuals, 212 of which are males. The solutions envisaged by EAZA are simple and cost-effective, according to documents obtained and published by The Guardian: if keeping the animals in solitary confinement or castration are not enough to solve the problem of an ‘overpopulation’ in zoos, zoos believe they should instead be euthanised.
But why not reintroduce them back into the wild? “IUCN experts do not recommend the reintroduction of apes born in captivity into the wild, except for those apes born in sanctuaries in their country of distribution and to parents awaiting reintroduction,” explains FFW biologist Dr. Monica Biondo, referring to the IUCN Guidelines for Best Practice in Great Ape Reintroduction. “Moreover, the few attempts to reintroduce gorillas born in European zoos into the wild have had questionable success”.
“Gorillas are critically endangered in the wild, yet in captivity zoos are planning to cull them to reduce their numbers. This is proof that the current concept of zoos is totally outdated and does not contribute to the protection of species,” says Vera Weber, president of FFW.
In Basel, Switzerland, a FFW-supported initiative aiming at granting the right to life, physical and psychological integrity to the non-human great primates has been filed and will be voted on February 13, 2022. In case of acceptance, the euthanasia of gorillas simply because they are ‘too many’ would be forbidden.
 International Union for Conservation of Nature