Managing Breeding Programmes
Breeding programmes are designed to maintain a healthy, self-sustaining, genetically diverse, as well as demographically stable population of captive animals. In order to manage this, zoos and aquaria collaborate to manage captive populations, exchanging individuals and coordinating their breeding efforts.
Collaboration and co-ordination between zoos all over the world are essential if captive populations are to be successfully maintained without the need to take individuals from wild populations. Animals in separate zoos should be managed as part of one single global population, and this population must be kept genetically and demographically healthy.
The most highly developed management system for captive species are the European Endangered Species Programmes (EEPS). There are currently around 340 species managed under EEPs in European zoos. These EEPs are not just short-term management programmes; they aim to ensure that species maintain at least 90% of genetic diversity for at least 100 years in captivity. The 100-year target is ongoing, so that each EEP is constantly updating itself to ensure that a minimum of a century’s worth of genetic diversity lies ahead.
If captive breeding is left until a species is on the brink of disappearing, then captive breeding is not likely to be very successful. Just removing wild animals from a tiny population might cause mor damage than good. For this reason, EEPs are set up for a wide range of vulnerable species as ealy as possible, to safeguard against further declines.
The key to understanding how cooperative captive breeding programmes work, is the studbook. If threatened species are to be successfully maintained in zoos and other collections, these relatively small populations must be carefully managed.ZSL breeds 160 EEP species, and holds the studbooks for 11 species.
Each species has a studbook, which is a complete breeding record of every individual under the programme. In turn, each studbook is managed by an individual at a particular zoo. These studbooks used to be filing cabinets full of information. Today, they’re all computerised, and there are complicated software programmes that help the studbook holders to plan their cross-zoo breeding programmes.
These organisations coordinate between zoos and aquaria: