‘Planet Zoo’ Simulation Spreads Awareness on the Dangers of Inbreeding (How Else Will People Learn?)
While most people use gaming as a form of entertainment, it’s also a useful tool for learning. Sure, most of the time players are learning how to deal with a zombie apocalypse or the best way to fend off alien invasions, but they’re still learning something. Frontier Developments’ latest game is a complex zoo simulator that allows players to create the most wondrous collection of animals that they can imagine, a zoo so wonderful that it would put the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to shame. However, Planet Zoo (available now on Steam) also teaches players about some important wildlife issues including the dangers of inbreeding animals that are being kept in captivity.
Sadly, unlike alien invasions and hordes of the undead attacking, zoo animals inbreeding isn’t a hypothetical problem. As the Mammalian Journey found out in a recent study, the Asiatic lions that live in the London Zoo have suffered greatly from inbreeding. As a result of this, 39 of 57 cubs born between 2007 and 2009 died within just four months of being born. That’s a huge blow to the endangered lion, as there’s only 650 wild Asiatic lions as of the 2017 census count. If the zoo had more closely monitored the breeding, exchanged their animals with other zoos and worked to keep inbreeding to a minimum, then this majestic animal would be far better off.
Cover Photo: Frontier Developments
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'Planet Zoo' forces players to learn from the mistakes of real zoos.
Planet Zoo is the most realistic zoo simulation to date and that isn’t relegated to just how the animals look and behave. Every single animal in the game is unique, so despite looking similar, one zebra won't have the exact same stripe pattern as another. It's not all looks, though, as they each have their own genome that determines their life expectancy, how large they will grow to be, their immunity to disease, and if they're fertile. Any good zookeeper will want to make sure all of their animals’ needs are being met and that they’re being able to live a full life in their captivity.
This level of realism means that players will have to learn from the mistakes of real zoos. Back in 2011, India's Bannerghatta Biological Park celebrated as they welcomed four tigers into the world after seeing many of their type die from a salmonella infection. However, they quickly learned that the cubs were a product of inbreeding, and that means genetic degeneration will occur.
Photo: Frontier Developments
Inbreeding animals causes problems.
Bandipur National Park's wildlife conservation expert D. Rajkumar explained to the Deccan Herald that inbreeding doesn't happen in the wild but can occur in zoos. Early batches of inbred animals don't suffer much from physical deformities, but rather a weakened immune system. This is a big issue as female lions choose a mate based upon their build and strength. “In the case of inbred animals, although they would look fit, they would develop genetic diseases like resistance to diseases,” said Rajkumar. “Since the animals in BBP are kept with close range of humans, even common cold or tuberculosis can spread easily. Animal exchange is one of the ways to keep away from inbreeding.”
Weakened immune systems is what led to so many Asiatic lions dying young in the London zoo as they simply weren’t strong enough to survive. However, that isn’t the only negative side effect of genetic degeneration. These animals eventually become sterile, and that means the end of an endangered species if all of the survivors are inbred. Making sure this doesn’t happen is a top worry for conservation experts.
As such, Planet Zoo will require players to closely monitor the animals that they keep. Participating in animal exchange programs is a must in order to keep endangered species from inbreeding. After all, if players keep the same pair of animals in the same area, and don’t have a proper number of females, it’s a sad inevitability. Not only is this raising awareness of the issue, but Frontier Developments is showcasing the correct way to combat it.
Photo: Frontier Developments
Teaching players makes the gameplay more rewarding.
There are several reasons why Frontier Developments are implementing inbreeding into Planet Zoo. One is that it will ensure that the gameplay doesn’t grow stale. If there was no such worry, then players could keep the same animals together forever and they’d have no reason to swap them out or partake in animal exchanges with other parks. This way, players will have to focus on the animals, their offspring, and rotating them in and out. It creates a more active, rather than passive, gameplay experience.
However, conservation is important to the development team and that’s another reason why Planet Zoo features these real-life issues. “The game is slightly fantastical in its very nature, but we've always centered around the ideas of welfare and conservation," said director Piers Jackson to Eurogamer. "The conservation we touch on is an ongoing part of the game - you're breeding animals for that very reason, and we will show a number of those topics to the player."
Ultimately, Planet Zoo’s inclusion of inbreeding helps it send a positive message and also makes the gameplay more enjoyable for players. It goes to show that gaming can help inform players of important issues and still entertain them while doing so. Who knows, the game might just inspire one kid to get a job at a zoo and work on exchanging animals in the future. If that happens, then this was all worth it as they have made a real impact on the conservation of endangered species and helped the world save another one of its wondrous creatures.
Photo: Frontier Developments