04 05/04/2011

Wildlife warning as dogs are unleashed

An anticipated boom in the world’s population will squeeze wildlife to its limits.

Chester Zoo’s Director General Dr Mark Pilgrim warned that an anticipated doubling in human population numbers over the next 40 years could prove catastrophic for wildlife.

His comments came as the zoo unveiled its new exhibit for a pack of endangered Painted dogs – also known as African Hunting dogs.

Dr Pilgrim said threats facing species such as Painted dogs in the wild would increase as space would be at a premium for both man and animals.

“Over the next four decades, the world’s population will double. That is an alarming prospect and leaves even less space for wildlife, exposing species such as the Painted dog to greater threats in their home ranges. The more we encroach into animal territory – intentially or otherwise - the greater and more devastating the effects on the world’s biodiversity will be, said Dr Pilgrim.

Describing the situation as ‘sad’, Dr Pilgrim said zoos had a vital role to play in protecting wildlife.

“Potentially there are big problems ahead and this is where organisations such as Chester Zoo come into their own. We enable species to thrive but can also make investments in the wild to do all we can to aid the wildlife that is such an important part of our environment. In doing so, we can safeguard it for future generations,” he added.

Dr Pilgrim was joined at the opening by conservationist Tony Fitzjohn OBE, Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust who has worked with the Government of Tanzania on the rehabilitation of Mkomazi National Park.  Mkomazi National Park is home to wild populations of the dogs and has been supported by the zoo in its role as a conservation charity for 11 years.

Tony, whose work with the Government of Tanzania over the past 21 years has resulted in Mkomazi being upgraded from a game reserve to a national park, echoed Dr Pilgrim’s warning.

He said: “Throughout their range, Painted dogs are amongst the most endangered animals in the world.  Their addition to the various ecosystems in which they live needs no lengthy description because if we lose yet another species, the human race loses a large part of itself as well.

“It is wonderful that Chester Zoo is now able to educate such a large part of the English population in the role that these animals play in the wild, as well as their complexities, their characters and their fascinating social structures.

“Like so much else in the world these days, their lives are in our hands and we cannot afford to let them down.”

Mr Fitzjohn said he hoped seeing Painted dogs at Chester Zoo would give people an “understanding of, and sympathy for”, the natural world.

Ends                 5 April 2011

Notes to editors:

Chester Zoo
The Painted dogs’ exhibit is home to seven dogs – five males and two females. Painted dogs face a range of threats in their home ranges – including disease spread by domestic dogs, road traffic accidents and loss of suitable habitats. The new African-themed includes specially-built public viewing areas, a theatre area for groups, and bridge offering spectacular views of the enclosure.

The zoo – home to 7,000 animals, 400 species - welcomes 1.3 million visitors a years and is a registered conservation charity, supporting conservation programmes across the globe – chesterzoo.org for details.

Tony Fitzjohn
For more information on Tony Fitzjohn visit georgeadamson.org/Fitzjohn
His book Born Wild, which charts his colourful life story, is out in paperback