The giant panda cub nicknamed Yuan Zai (圓仔) has brought the Taipei Zoo a burst of publicity, but the good vibes have been unable to mask the pressure the zoo is under to find more space to deal with a looming overpopulation problem.
Doubts have emerged over the futures of other animals because unlike the pandas, which are tended around the clock in their own special building, other species are housed in relatively small areas.
Zoo spokesman Chang Ming-hsiung (張明雄) said the zoo could soon be overcrowded thanks to prolific animals such as chimpanzees and goats, making it harder for the facility to give enough attention to rare and endemic species.
The zoo said it hopes to acquire 20 hectares of land to better accommodate its animals, especially endangered species.
“Endangered animals like the Formosan black bears need abundant room for their population to grow, and only through a larger population can we maintain the species’ genetic diversity,” Chang said.
He said that with more room, animal experts could also build up colonies to apply genetic techniques to endangered species such as Rana taipehensis, a kind of frog, as wildlife conservation efforts have been restricted to the research level so far.
The zoo, which is home to more than 3,000 creatures, sits on 165 hectares. That may seem like a lot, given that the San Diego Zoo in California, for example, is on a 40 hectare site, but less than half of the land is usable because it is on a hillside, Chang said.
The National Property Administration said it was willing to help the zoo find land, but it has not yet received a request from the zoo.
The zoo dates its founding back to a private zoological garden established by a Japanese man in the Yuanshan (圓山) area in 1914. The Japanese colonial government purchased the garden in 1915 and turned it into a public park. The zoo moved to Wenshan District (文山) in 1986 because of space concerns.