It is very rare for a zoo to actually buy an animal. Most exotic animals are traded, loaned or donated to zoos. This is especially true with endangered animals, who are moved to zoos that can provide the best environment to breed in hopes that the species may recover in the wild. The real cost the zoo pays for is for food, habitat and other care expenses to give the enimals what they need to thrive in captivity.
Zoos actually have extensive breeding plans that are an intricate matchmaking system for animal populations from zoos across the country. This is referred to as the “Species Survival Plan”.
I would add that the process for acquisition of animals by a zoo is very complicated and not easily done. There are many considerations to make when either attaining an animal from another zoo or from the wild (which is rarely done–strictly in cases when a species numbers are so low that it will soon die off); the transmission of diseases from incoming animals is the primary concern when moving animals around, but behavioral issues are also given consideration. In addition, a zoo needs to be sure it has the proper facilities and resources to effectively care for the animal.
Zoos not only pay a lot of money to get their animals, they also pay exorbitantly to keep them and simulate their habitats.
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