I refer to the letters by Carrie Cheung ('Park will harm its reputation', April 20) and Allison Jones ('Park's disregard for dolphins', April 21). Ocean Park personnel were in the Solomon Islands recently on a conservation and research initiative to support the local government in starting independent, scientific, peer-reviewed studies of the genetic diversity, population, and sustainability of marine mammals in their waters. This was not part of a dolphin capture programme and allegations to that effect, as well as implications pertaining to Ocean Park are untrue, inaccurate and damaging to our reputation.
Ocean Park believes that the animals under its care are the best ambassadors for wildlife conservation through educational programmes developed around them and emotional connections visitors make with them. Studies confirm that seeing living, breathing animals in zoological facilities inspires children and adults to care about protecting marine mammals and their declining habitats. A 2005 Harris Interactive poll found that the public is nearly unanimous (87 per cent) in its acclaim for the irreplaceable educational impact of marine life parks, zoos and aquariums. The overwhelming amount of information learned from animals under human care in facilities like Ocean Park has led to better conservation programmes for animals in the wild. Indeed, knowledge acquired through managing small populations at zoological facilities is often directly applicable to saving small, fragmented populations in the wild.
Small populations are vulnerable to genetic diversity loss. To minimise this among animals under its care, Ocean Park works with other facilities through breeding loans, exchanges and acquisitions, as well as by rescuing animals in need of care. In accordance with the International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines and the by-laws of the zoological associations to which the park belongs, wild populations would be considered as a possible source of genetic diversity only if there is independent, verifiable scientific evidence that the population is sustainable and the removal of animals is non-detrimental to the population's survival.
As a not-for-profit organisation in Hong Kong, Ocean Park has devoted many resources to promote education on the importance of conservation with respect to animals, natural habitats, clean air, clean water and the environment. The archipelago-wide study of small cetaceans in the Solomon Islands is one more example of the important conservation work supported by Ocean Park and its conservation arm, the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong. Last year alone, the foundation funded and participated in more than 40 conservation, research and education projects on 20 different animal species.
Ocean Park's husbandry practices for all the animals in its care are of the highest international standards and respected by the public and animal care providers throughout the world. The Hong Kong public continues to show its support for the good work done by Ocean Park, and the dedicated and caring professionals who work with our animals, with close to five million visits in the past year alone.
Suzanne Gendron, executive director, zoological operations and education, Ocean Park