Why Breed in Captivity?
Though removing animals from endangered wild populations might seem to be detrimental to conservation efforts, in many cases conserving a species purely by conserving its habitat is not enough. Conservation breeding of captive populations provides a vital safety net for wild species.
Creating stable captive populations of vulnerable species can be useful in many ways. There is the immediate insurance against extinction that a captive population offers. Whatever happens to wild populations, a captive population means we do not lose the species entirely.
Given the growing threats to many habitats, we will not be able to protect all species in the wild, and conservation breeding will become increasingly important. Already, species such as the Socorro Dove owe their existence to captive breeding projects such as ours.
Captive poplations also offer a chance to breed more individuals, free from threat, in the hope of increasing wild numbers or even reintroducing animals into their former ranges if suitable habitat exists. In species where a lack of individuals can accelerate population decline, due to inability to hunt or reproduce, bolstering numbers with new animals can be very helpful.
Breeding in captivity also means that animals rarely need to be taken from wild populations, such as for zoos. Captive animals are far more accessible to the public, and so act as ambassadors of conservation issues, that otherwise might receive little public attention. Poster-animals such as tigers and pandas probably contribute a great deal to conservation through the donation money they bring in form the public.
Find out more about why it is important to breed animals in captivity:
What to breed?
There are debates about how we should spread our conservation breeding efforts. For example, a single room at ZSL London Zoo contains self-sufficient populations of over 10 Partula tree snail species. They produce thousands of offspring each year and cost relatively little to keep.
In contrast, large mammals such as white rhino breed very slowly, with at most one baby a year, cost a great deal to keep, and we can only have a handful in each zoo. The balance between the effect conservation breeding can have, the public appeal of different species and the resources we have is one that needs to be constantly reassessed.
Conservation breeding also involves the very careful management of captive populations, to ensure their genetic variation is not diminished and they remain capable of surviving in the wild as far as possible.