Where do our animals come from and where do they go?

Male African lion at ZSL Whipsnade ZooZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo have hundreds of species and thousands of individual animals. But where do they come from? And where do they go when they leave our zoos?

ZSL has a team of curators that cover each taxonomic group of animals in the two sites. So there is a Curator of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.

They have developed a collection plan which justifies the presence of every species and individual animal in the two zoos under the categories of conservation, research and/or education. The collection plan for ZSL fits within a bigger regional collection plan for Europe and the reason for this regional collection plan is to increase the collaboration of zoos throughout Europe to optimise our ability to breed and manage endangered species.

Many of the species at our zoos are part of European endangered species programmes (ESBs and EEPs). These programmes have a co-ordinator whose job is to look at the whole European zoo population of the species and make recommendations for breeding or non-breeding, as appropriate.

The co-ordinator will ask different zoos to move animals from one place to another to enable the optimal breeding matches to take place. For example, we were asked to take a male Asian lion from Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens to breed with our female at ZSL London Zoo.

Animals bred at our zoos also form part of these programmes, for example the black hornbills we bred were sent to collections in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain to breed with unrelated individuals. ZSL staff also co-ordinate a number of these programmes.

In some very special circumstances we do get animals from the wild.

Every year we work with English Nature to collect a small breeding group of field crickets. These are bred in the Zoo and the offspring released back into the wild as a key part of the Species Recovery Programme for this endangered invertebrate.

We also work with overseas conservation initiatives. For example, the Aquarium at ZSL London Zoo has received fish from the Philippines that are certified through the Marine Aquarium Council. This initiative aims to conserve coral reefs and other marine ecosystems by creating standards and certification for those engaged in the collection and care of ornamental marine life from reef to aquarium.

In a similar way, we will be supporting several important community-based sustainable employment and associated habitat conservation initiatives for the new walk-through butterfly experience at ZSL London Zoo.

Projects such as Kipepeo in Kenya are improving the livelihoods of local butterfly farmers and in doing so placing a tangible value on the Arobuke-Sokoke forest from where the initial breeding stock originates.

Our Curator of Mammals has had a busy time lately, with all the recent exciting developments at ZSL London Zoo. He worked with species co-ordinators and zoos around the world to place the many species in the Clore Rainforest Lookout, our South American rainforest experience. He also assisted work on Gorilla Kingdom, our £5.3million development that brings the serenity of the African rainforest to the heart of London.

We ensure that all our animal moves meet the BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Animal Transaction Policy.