Zoos and aquariums will become the last places on Earth to see species such as polar bears and coral if climate change negotiations fail at Copenhagen, the world's zoos warned Monday.
A petition delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on behalf of over 200 zoos belonging to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) urged governments to set targets of atmospheric carbon di-oxide below 350 particles per million in order to prevent 'the next mass extinction'.
Leading scientists and conservationists, including Sir David Attenborough, agreed at a crisis meeting in July that coral reefs undergo irreversible damage beyond the 350ppm boundary.
'From sea horses to golden-headed lion tamarins, zoos and aquariums play a crucial role in breeding endangered species for reintroduction into the wild,' said Paul Pearce-Kelly of The Zoological Society of London.
'However, the climate change threat to the natural world is so severe that we're rapidly losing suitable habitats for these species.'
WAZA president Mark Penning said: 'The urgent protection of ecosystems, which act as natural carbon sinks, is vital if humanity is to avoid the fate of runaway climate change. Our only hope is that world leaders respond to this reality and take the appropriate action.'
'Climate change is not just another issue for the zoo and aquarium community to address, it is the chess board which will determine the outcome of all our conservation efforts,' he added.
Zoos engage with over 600 million visitors a year, giving people their first experience of some of the planet's most remarkable species.
If government leaders are unable to broker a deal at the Dec 7-18 summit, many people will be left with no option but to turn to zoos as to experience the diversity of life on earth, WAZA warned.