The elephant park at Cologne Zoo | Photo:

Theo Pagel: “We need more good zoos”

Published on the 09.11.2021.

Prof. Theo Pagel, director of the renowned Cologne Zoo, provides insights into his vision of the modern zoo as a lighthouse for conservation.

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Hippopotamus at Cologne Zoo during feeding. | Photograph: Markus Sobotka (Fotografie Markus Sobotka)

Note: Unfortunately, the article is currently hidden behind a paywall. In it, Prof. Pagel is asked about his function as president of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums during the coronavirus pandemic, but he also answers questions about the WAZA in general. The incidents at Krefeld Zoo at the turn of the year 2019/2020 are also discussed. Of course, the interview also addresses topics from the zoo world in general and Cologne Zoo’s director clarifies that he is not an advocate of more space for fewer animals, but for more space for more animals. Repeatedly, the false impression arises that the number of animals in zoos and aquariums should be reduced to ensure animal-friendly conditions. He also explains, taking the elephant husbandry as an example, that attractiveness to visitors and conservation are not mutually exclusive:

“Wir haben etwa eine der größten Elefantenherden in Europa, wir züchten sie erfolgreich, deshalb haben wir Jungtiere. Dadurch wiederum wächst die Gruppe stärker zusammen, wir haben mehr Interaktion, was wiederum für den Besucher interessanter ist. Wenn man das richtig macht, also im Sinne des Natur- und Artenschutzes, dann ist man auch noch attraktiv für die Besucher.” – Prof. Theo Pagel, director of Cologne Zoo

(Translation: We have perhaps one of the largest elephant herds in Europe, we breed them successfully, which is why we have young animals. As a result, the group grows closer together, and we have more interaction, which, in turn, is more interesting to visitors. If you do it right, that is, in line with nature and species conservation, you will also be attractive to visitors.)

When asked about the activists who claim that conservation in the natural habitat alone would be more effective, he counters that all conservation organisations agree on the fact that it is not possible without breeding programmes from zoos. We have also published an article about this topic. However, he also emphasises that Cologne Zoo has been involved in in-situ conservation for a long time, well across the zoo and city borders. In this context, the conversation also covers the initiative Reverse-The-Red, which Prof. Pagel helped to initiate. The zoo expert explains that he sees zoos as “arks of hope” and that they are to become lighthouses for conservation.

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