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Zoos play a vital role, don’t let them become extinct

14 September 2021 • by David Bach in Magazine

Zurich Zoo director Severin Dressen explains how his organization is being proactive in tackling the loss of biodiversity and helping to shape a sustainable coexistence between humans and nature. ...

Thailand’s wild elephant population has been dramatically reduced from an estimated 300,000 at the start of the 20th century to between 3,000 and 4,000 today. The root of the problem is the destruction of rainforests due to agricultural expansion, along with illegal logging, infrastructure development, urban sprawl and poaching. In Thailand, forest cover fell from 53.5% in 1961 to 31.6% in 2014.  

The increase in the deforestation rate has been a catalyst for conflict between elephants and humans. Traditional migration routes often lead elephants through settled areas used for agriculture, and these moving giants can cause substantial damage to plantations, houses and cattle, sometimes even trampling farmers to death. 

The community’s response can have tragic repercussions for elephants. “Elephants come overnight, they’re raiding the crops of the farmers, there’s not a very good reimbursement scheme, so farmers don’t know what to do, and they want to retaliate. So they’re poisoning or killing the elephant,” says Severin Dressen, the 33-year-old Director of Zurich Zoo.  

The zoo in Zurich has made the mitigation of human-elephant conflict in Thailand a core part of its conservation work. It supports farmers in the construction of elephant-safe fences around Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan National Park, which is home to about 200 wild elephants. The fences set off an alarm that alerts farmers to encroaching elephants, so they can be frightened away with firecrackers before causing damage or being harmed. 

Dr. Severin Dressen, Zurich Zoo director 

Cologne, Germany, in 1988, and raised in Aachen. 

Studied biology at the Humboldt University, Berlin, and at Imperial CollegeLondon. Doctorate in zoology at Oxford University. 

Worked on assignments in animal care in Germany and Spain (Tierpark Berlin, Zoo Frankfurt, Loro Parque Tenerife, L’Oceanografic Valencia).  Worked on conservation projects at El Palmar National Park in Argentina, among others.

After completing his doctorate, Dressen moved back to Germany to take up the position of curator at Wuppertal Zoo and, later, deputy director and zoological director. Since January 2020, he has been living in Zurich with his wife and two children.

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