Conservation an ‘oversight’ in zoo research

A group of giraffes

Conservation is being neglected compared to other areas of research when investigating animal social networks in zoos, new research has shown.

Researchers from the University of Exeter and Imperial College London have found that, despite the fact that such research could directly inform conservation efforts, social network research at zoos focuses on husbandry, animal welfare and basic science.

The chances of a citation (being referenced in other research) for a conservation-focused paper are 95 percent less than for a basic science paper.

Lead author Dr Paul Rose, at the University of Exeter, said: “We found that there is little focus on conservation in social network research in zoos, even though it has a significant influence on conservation efforts in the wild.

“Captive social networks could help us manage disease spread or help find answers for why a certain species isn’t reproducing at sustainable levels.

“We also found that primate papers were dominant the zoo-focussed social network analysis research, showing that there are plenty of opportunities for new, unexplored areas for people to focus on.

“Whilst there is lots of fantastic research being carried out, we want to encourage researchers to use zoo populations to their full potential as a resource for this behavioural research.

“Doing this means that we could further our understanding of conservation outcomes and help combat the devastating conservation crisis we currently face.”

The researchers compiled a database of 103 papers that use social network analysis in captivity published between 2010 and 2019. For each of these, they recorded the taxonomic information of the study animals, the publication reference, the number of citations and the topics.

The research team included Jack Lewton from Imperial College London and Dr Paul Rose from the University of Exeter.

The study published in the journal Zoo Biology is entitled: ‘Social networks research in ex situ populations: Patterns, trends, and future directions for conservation-focused behavioural research’.

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