Zoo Genetics and Breeding

Zoo Genetics and Breeding aims to introduce population genetics and looks at why genetic diversity is essential in a healthy population. Using real-life ZSL examples, we look at how genetic drift, the founder effect and genetic bottlenecks affect genetic diversity. We’ll also investigate how zoos manage genetics of captive populations and why it is so crucial for future reintroductions of animals to the wild.

Zoo Genetics and Breeding education session

Age group:  Post-16 (AS/A Level, Ages 16-18)

Duration: 50 minutes

Capacity: 60 pupils

Learning Space: Education Centre 


Exam Board specification links:


AQA AS Level Biology

Unit 2 BIOL2: The variety of living organisms

3.2.3. Similarities and differences in DNA result in genetic diversity

  • Similarities and differences between organisms may be defined in terms of variation in DNA. Differences in DNA lead to genetic diversity.
  • The influence of the following on genetic diversity
  • the founder effect
  • genetic bottlenecks


OCR – A Level Biology (H421)

A2 Unit F215: Control, Genomes and Environment

5.1.2 Meiosis and Variation

  • (o) explain how genetic drift can cause large changes in small populations


Edexcel AS Level Biology (8BI01)

Unit 2: Development, Plants and the Environment

2.4 Biodiversity and natural resources

  • 17. Discuss and evaluate the methods used by zoos and seed banks in the conservation of endangered species and their genetic diversity (e.g. scientific research, captive breeding programmes, reintroduction programmes and education)


Intended learning outcomes:

Students will be able to:

  • Gain an understanding of the process of genetic drift and how it has an impact on small populations of animals
  • Gain an understanding of some real-life ZSL case studies of populations that have been affected by genetic drift
  • Gain an appreciation of why and how genetic management is used within zoos and captive populations


For this session


Before Your Visit:

  • Find out which animals at ZSL London Zoo are part of a captive breeding programme and plan a route of the zoo that will incorporate some of these species.


While at the Zoo:

  • Why not give you students to undertake a double session and book Zoos and Conservation.  Using case studies from ZSL, Zoos and Conservation helps students to understand how zoos work to conserve endangered species; from captive breeding and reintroduction programmes, to science and education. This session gives students the opportunity to find out about and discuss the role of zoos in the 21st century.
  • Use the pre-visit information sheet and undertake the suggested activity onsite at the Zoo
  • Make sure you visit B.U.G.S and find the critically endangered Partula snails. Discover why and how ZSL are working to protect this animal.


After Your Visit:

  • Research other examples of animals affected by genetic drift. Can you find another example of the founder effect and genetic bottlenecks?
  • Students can refer to the information sheet here: PDF icon A-level support booklet.pdf (1.62 MB) (1.62 MB) for more information about ZSL and links to relevant resources.