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bat flying.gif (3918 bytes)Several zoos have small mammal houses, or some accommodation to exhibit just a few rodents or bushbabies or fruit bats to balance their collection a little. Of course if zoos were really representative of the animal kingdom as a whole then a quarter of all their mammals would be bats and a third would be rodents but this is clearly not the case. Perhaps this illustrates something of the selective nature of the type of conservation work that zoos can do. It isn’t only zoos that are guilty of this though. We all value African elephants more than we value kangaroo rats or hutias, and perhaps we are right to do so. But it does mean that there are probably dozens of endangered rodents and bats whose plight we are quite unaware of.

Another feature of the small mammals in zoos is the fact that so many of them crop up at just one collection. Take a look at the tables in the online guide and see how few zoos keep small mammal species in any numbers. As an example you can see that out of twenty-four zoo exhibits of rats and mice in Britain, seventeen are at London Zoo. In fact London one of very few world zoos that can seriously claim to specialise in small mammals (along with a lot of other things of course), and London’s small mammal house is an experience in itself.

Many small mammals are nocturnal, and zoos have discovered what a good exhibit they can be if they are kept in nocturnal houses with day and night reversed. Almost without exception the animals are kept behind glass, and in some cases, like London again, even the burrows are half-glassed so that you can see the animals asleep ‘underground’. It is a pity that so few zoos take rats and mice, squirrels, and bats seriously. They do deserve our attention, and Jersey Zoo has shown with its Jamaican hutias and volcano rabbits that real conservation work can be undertaken with even the most unlikely little creatures.

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