Wildlife Conservation Society
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) was founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and currently works to conserve more than two million square miles of wild places around the world. Based at the Bronx Zoo, the organization maintains approximately 500 field conservation projects in 65 countries, with 200 PhD scientists on staff. WCS manages four New York City wildlife parks in addition to the Bronx Zoo: the Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo. Together these parks receive 4.5 million visitors per year. All of the New York City facilities are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
The stated mission of the Wildlife Conservation Society is:
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education, and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.
The Wildlife Conservation Society was originally chartered by the state of New York on April 26, 1895. Then known as the New York Zoological Society, the organization embraced a mandate to advance wildlife conservation, promote the study of zoology, and create a first-class zoological park. Its name was changed to the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1993.
Among the founders of WCS were Andrew H. Green, best known as the father of greater New York City, and Henry Fairfield Osborn, Columbia University professor and curator of the American Museum of Natural History. Theodore Roosevelt and other notable New Yorkers were also involved in the Society's creation.
The Bronx Zoo (formerly the New York Zoological Park) was designed along the lines of other cultural institutions in New York City, such as the American Museum of Natural History. The city provided the land for the new zoo and some funding for buildings and annual operating costs. WCS raised most of the funds for construction and operations from private donors, and selected the scientific and administrative personnel.
Early conservation work
In the late nineteenth century William Temple Hornaday, then director of the New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo), carried out a direct-mail survey of wildlife conditions through the United States, and publicized the decline of birds and mammals in the organization's annual reports. In 1897 Hornaday also hired field researcher Andrew J. Stone to survey the condition of wildlife in the territory of Alaska. On the basis of these studies, Hornaday led the campaign for new laws to protect the wildlife there and the United States as a whole. In 1901, a small herd of American Bison were gathered in a 20 acre meadow just off what is now Pelham Pkwy.
Starting in 1905, Hornaday led a national campaign to reintroduce the almost extinct bison to government sponsored refuges. The Bronx Zoo sent 15 bison to Wichita Reserve in 1907 and additional bison in later years. The saving of this uniquely American symbol is one of the great success stories in the history of wildlife conservation. Hornaday campaigned for wildlife protection throughout his thirty years as director of the Bronx Zoo.
William Beebe, the first curator of birds at the Bronx Zoo, began a program of field research soon after the Bronx Zoo opened. His research on wild pheasants took him to Asia from 1908 to 1911 and resulted in a series of books on pheasants. Beebe's field work also resulted in the creation of the Society’s Department of Tropical Research, which Beebe directed from 1922 until his retirement in 1948.
Beebe’s research in an undersea vessel called the bathysphere took him half a mile under the ocean floor off Bermuda in 1934 to record for the first time human observations of the bottom of the deep sea. The bathysphere is currently displayed at the New York Aquarium.
World War II
The war years marked the arrival of Fairfield Osborn as NYZS president and Laurance Rockefeller as executive committee chairman. A best selling writer on conservation and son of WCS founder Henry Fairfield Osborn, Osborn soon embraced changes that signaled new thinking in the organization. Guests were allowed to bring their own cameras into the Bronx Zoo, while animals were grouped by continents and ecosystems rather than genetic orders and families, beginning with the African Plains exhibit in 1941.
After World War II, under the leadership of Osborn, the organization extended its programs in field biology and conservation. In 1946 WCS helped found the Jackson Hole Wildlife Park, which became part of Grand Teton National Park in 1962.
In the late 1950s WCS began a series of wildlife surveys and projects in Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burma, and the Malay peninsula. In 1959 it sponsored George Schaller’s seminal study of mountain gorillas in Congo. Since that expedition, Schaller has gone on to become the world's preeminent field biologist, studying wildlife throughout Africa, Asia and South America.
Conservation activities continued to expand under the leadership of William G. Conway, who became director of the Bronx Zoo in 1962 and President of WCS in 1992. Active as a field biologist in Patagonia, Conway promoted a new vision of zoos as conservation organizations, which cooperated in breeding endangered species. He also designed new types of zoo exhibits aimed at teaching visitors about habitats that support wildlife, and encouraged the expansion of WCS's field programs.
Role in the modern conservation era
During the 1960s and 1970s, the WCS took a leadership role in pioneering zoological exhibitions by seeking to recreate natural environments for the animals on display. Under the leadership of WCS director William G. Conway, the Bronx Zoo opened its World of Darkness for nocturnal species in 1969 and its World of Birds for avian displays in 1974.
Eventually New York City turned to WCS to renew and manage three city-run facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. The redesigned Central Park Zoo opened in 1988, followed by the Queens Zoo in 1992 and the Prospect Park Zoo in 1993. From 1994 through 1996 Archie Carr III of WCS helped establish the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, a reserve for endangered jaguar.
Today WCS is at work on some 500 projects in more than 60 nations around the world that are intended to help protect both wildlife and the wild places in which they live. The organization endeavors to protect 25 percent of the world's biodiversity—from the gorillas of Africa and the tigers of Asia to macaws in South America and the sharks, whales and turtles traveling through the planet's seas. In recent years WCS has actively worked in conflict areas like Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar, where agreements on wildlife resource have contributed to peace and stability.
More than 4 million people visit WCS's wildlife parks in New York City each year. WCS's zoos and aquarium inform visitors from across the globe with state-of-the-art exhibits with naturalistic settings. Guests encounter a variety of species threatened in the wild and learn how they can help secure the future of these animals. With the award-winning Congo Gorilla Forest, which presents several troops of western lowland gorillas as one might see them in the wild, the Bronx Zoo became the first zoo to directly contribute exhibit admission fees to field-based conservation, with more than $11 million raised for work in central Africa.
The Mannahatta Project is a project by the WCS to reconstruct and map how Manhattan looked in 1609 when Henry Hudson discovered the island. Elements being mapped include where the streams flowed and where each species of tree grew. The Lenni Lenape people who lived there called the island Mannahatta, or "land of many hills." The project highlights the ways that development has altered the natural ecosystems.
- "About Us" WCS.org
- "List of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums" Association of Zoos and Aquariums (aza.org).
- "About Us" WCS.org
- William Temple Hornaday: Saving the American Bison Smithsonian Institution
- William Temple Hornaday: Visionary of the National Zoo Smithsonian Institution
- Bridges, William (1974). Gathering of Animals: An Unconventional History of the New York Zoological Society. Harper & Row Publishers. pp. 450-453. ISBN 0-06-010472-4.
- Hancocks, David (2002). A Different Nature: The Paradoxical World of Zoos and Their Uncertain Future. University of California Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-52023676-9.
- About the City Zoos
- "About Us" WCS.org
- Congo Gorilla Forest WCS.org
- The Mannahatta Project Wildlife Conservation Society
- Welikia: Beyond Manahatta"
- Nick Paumgarten "Our Local Correspondents: The Mannahatta Project" The New Yorker, 1 October 2007, p. 44.
- Bridges, William. A Gathering of Animals: An Unconventional History of the New York Zoological Society. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
- Goddard, Donald, ed. Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
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