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Can zoos contribute to species conservation with ex situ breeding programmes?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by casuariusb, 2 Mar 2014.

  1. casuariusb

    casuariusb Member

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    The recent forum on Euthanasia of healthy animals in zoos focused on an animal which was part of an EAZA controlled ex situ conservation breeding programme. Copenhagen zoo justified their action as being a necessary step in maintaining a genetically sound programme.
    Linked to the discussion was an article by Colin Tudge
    Head over heart: why Marius the giraffe had to die - Telegraph
    where he states “Modern zoos are, or should be, a very far cry from old-style menageries, and they cannot be justified at all unless they contribute to conservation.”
    While the educational potential of zoos to influence the 700 million annual visitors is undisputed, the ex situ breeding programmes may be a waste of resources and serve little practical purpose.
    Apart from a limited number of invertebrates in London Zoo, some Przewalski horses and Scimitar oryx elsewhere, very few zoo specimens will, or should, be returned to the wild. Captive conditions frequently result in animals unsuitable for release and natural habitat is often already occupied or under threat. Using zoo animals to save wild populations may be a pipe dream.
    EAZA has over 600 breeding or monitoring programmes and AZA several hundred. Although the “last resort” hypothesis may be valid for some species, like the Black-footed ferret or California condor, in situ protection would seem to be the way forward and zoos should perhaps become more involved in this direction.
     
  2. Jana

    Jana Well-Known Member

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    Ex situ breeding programes serve more purposes at the same time
    - assurance groups for the worse case scenario (local or global extinction)
    - source of animals for other zoos without necessity to catch any new wild animals
    - source of husbandry/vet/genetical information and experiences that are later applied for rescue of wild populations
    and so on.

    Releases of captive bred animals must be of course well prepaired and controlled, so that such action would never make the situation actually worse. But it happens more frequently then your comment suggests. Przewalski horses, bearded vultures, black vultures, barn owls, ural owls, wisents, lynx, souslik, black rhinos, Bali starlings are some animals bred and reintroduced by Czech zoos in last years. Globaly, there must be so much more programs.

    Zoos can ´t save wild animal populations single-handed, that is impossible. But they are one small useful part of the chain. First the real reasons must be solved, why a species disappeared. Only after this a reintroduction is meaningfull.

    The question if ex situ breeding programs are waste of resources is wrong in my opinion. Money now used in zoos wouldn´t be redirected to nature protection at all. The entrance fee would be spent in movie theaters, sport facilities, amusement parks and similar free time family offers. Subsidies flowing now from cities or countries would be redirected to other local needs, especially for support of other important tourist destinations. Donations from public would flow to other charitable organisations. And the former zoo areas would probably turn into construction sites for high-end residence buildings. Clearly - zoos don´t steal money that would otherwise go to in situ programs. Zoos actually promote and generate additional resources for such programs. They are not rivals fighting for the same available funds.

    Your call for support of in situ programs by zoos is at least 15 years too late. Most zoos worldwide do this already, even here in Czech rep practically each zoo has at least one in situ program that they organize or support financially and personally. Prague is involved in at least 10 - 15 currently, spending around 100kUSD annually.

    But to be honest, zoos´ possibilities for in situ and ex situ support of nature are and always will stay rather limited. The main way how zoos can help is education, education and once again education.

    I see some anti-zoo people saying there is little purpose to show living captive animals to children in times of beautiful wildlife tv programs, in times when thanks to internet everybody can reach so much info and videos of wild animals as never before. But this hides a potential for children to see animals akin "virtual" creatures, on same level as dragons or Jabba the Hutt. They are fascinating and all, but a moment later you switch interest to the next topic, and close the window and they disappear. A few nature protection "fanatics" are not enough, nature needs affection and support of wide masses.

    And I see some anti-zoo people say zoos are not needed, just sanctuaries, rescue centers and similar. Especially it is comming from UK and USA based people. Maybe it is just a cultural difference, but I don t underst the logic. The best rescue centers and shelters here in my country are run by zoos. More then half of local zoos have attached either a large specialised rescue center for wild animals, dog or cat shelter or a station for care of seized CITES animals. Zoos are perceived as the best experts in care of animals by both authorities and general public.
     
    Last edited: 2 Mar 2014
  3. gentle lemur

    gentle lemur Well-Known Member

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    This isn't even fair to ZSL, which has made significant contributions to the programs for the reintroduction of the Arabian oryx and the corncrake as well as the species you have mentioned.
    There are many other programs which have successfully reintroduced captive-bred animals into the wild or close to achieving this aim. For example the work of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has been exemplary Conservation | Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
    Breeding animals in zoos is not a panacea for all the problems of endangered species, but I don't think anyone ever suggested that it was. It is part of the solution for an increasing number of species.

    Alan
     
  4. IanRRobinson

    IanRRobinson Well-Known Member

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    That depends upon the species. Janet Kear suggested many years ago that the money spent on the captive breeding programme for the Hawaiian Goose might have been better spent on predator control. That related to a harmless species of limited commercial value, indigenous to a rich, politically stable country.

    Conversely, no serious efforts were put together for the Northern White Rhino until it was on the brink of extinction. Found fifty years ago in Chad, the Central African Republic, DRC, Southern Sudan and Uganda, thirty years of strife tearing across the borders of newly independent countries left the unfortunate animals at the mercy of gunmen looking to get money from the illegal horn trade.

    Even twenty years ago if half of the population (then estimated at 30-40 animals) still left in Garamba in the DRC had been captured and split between Dvur Kralove and San Diego the animal might still be in with a fighting chance. That didn't happen, and more fighting in DRC, coupled with fighters from Southern Sudan raiding over the border, has probably wiped that population out.

    In situ conservation is always the ideal, but sadly we live in a far from ideal world.
     
  5. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    Yep. Also, one benefit zoos have is that they bring in more money. Sanctuaries and rescue centers rely much more heavily on donations, which can make it difficult for some places to keep running.

    I think it's harder for people to recognize some of the work zoos do because a lot of the animals that do get released into the wild aren't high-profile charismatic megafauna like tigers and elephants. People don't get all that excited upon hearing that a local zoo released a bunch of their captive-bred critically endangered toads into the wild. They're more interested in those big, popular animals.

    Besides, it's not like animals can just be released into the wild whenever the zoo feels like it. The zoo that owns the animals needs to have the permission to do it. The zoo also needs to ensure that the animals will be safe. If all of the rhinos are still being poached, it might not be a good idea to release more into the wild until people figure out how to stop that poaching. Some places don't have much in the way of conservation laws, or can't or won't enforce whatever laws they do have.

    Personally I see zoo populations as something of an emergency supply. Yes, in-situ conservation is best... But we can't always have it. Even when we do have it, if something goes wrong and a bunch of rare animals are lost, having a zoo population for backup doesn't hurt.

    On a side note, it's interesting that you brought up the matter of kids seeing animals as virtual if they never see them in real life. For a while now I've had this idea, where people who live in urban or suburban areas seem to think that nature is this rare, faraway thing, and I think it's because such people only see it on TV and such. It's less real to them. I think if an animal can do well in captivity, and the facilities are good, zoos do serve that function. It makes nature and animals more real to people and prevents the "out of sight, out of mind" attitude. (also why I like it when zoos showcase at least a few local species, to get rid of the notion that nature is this exotic, faraway thing)
     
  6. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    Thank you Jana for this very thoughtful post.

    As for the "rescue center/shelters/sanctuaries" aspect:
    the anti-zoo lobby advocate such because they go along with their general ideology, which favors a crazy cat lady/animal horder over realistic and matter-of-fact animal keeping, on the basis of emotional animal welfare/"ethics".
    The terminology "rescue" or "sanctuary" sounds so much better to the PC ear of the common social justice warrior than the prosaic "zoological garden" with its scientific background and entertainment/recreation aspects. No wonder that many roadside zoos and similar animal attractions, but also more serious institutions, have donned such titles to make them more attractive on the outside to people who consider the word "zoo" evil and archaic.
    A change of name doesn't, however, usually guarantee a consequent change of quality to the better (or completely honest motives). Due to that, quite a bunch of such "sanctuaries" or "rescue centers" have been raided and closed by officials in the US and elsewhere for violations of animal rights, fraud and inadequate/illegal husbandry.

    An advantage I see in non-public institutions is that ideally(sic) one could save the money a zoo has to spend on aesthetic design, novel entertainment features or any visitor amenities and spend it on more practical, result-orientated husbandry systems. Without the public eye constantly watching, one can do what many private keepers already do: focus on "boring" species most of the public wouldn't visit a zoo for, keep more specimens of a species/breeding groups etc. and in general provide husbandry better suited to their well-being of the species kept than their presentation.
    The disadvantage? Remember the already mentioned black sheep and, as the case of that Danish giraffe showed, the potential problem when matter-of-fact animal husbandry collides with animal ethics and emotional animal welfare.

    In reality, however, there's always the question of financing such facilities without constant income from somewhere; a question animal right activists usually try to avoid or reply to with rather vaguely mumbled phrases such as "new taxes" or "the zoos(sic)".
    Another problem is: what to do with the constantly incoming new animals, may it be injured local wildlife that cannot be rehabilitated, confiscated pets or surplus offspring? Building more and more "rescue centers"? Once again: where to get the money from? And when does the "rescue" stop (when the money runs out?)?
    Another problem I have with only non-public institutions: pretty much all humans (myself included) do tend to live according to the motto "Out of sight, out of mind" TMO mentioned. I wonder whether the rarely, if ever, offered "Open day/Open house" activities of such levelheaded institutions will have the same educational effect and fascination for the public as the constantly opened entertaining zoos. Some I've visited sure do, some not. The anti-zoo lobby might announce it again and again, but I've yet to experience any artificial "animal replacement" device, may it be a movie, a TV show, VR or a videogame that gives you the very same feeling of the (more or less) direct contact with a living animal, no matter how sophisticated the technology involved is. Judging from the popularity of zoos, pets and other animal-related aspects worldwide, I do not appear to be an exception.

    As for ex-situ breeding programmes in regard to species (not ecosystem) conservation: its "success" depends on many factors (species, habitat, institutions/governments/people involved) and never really ends. What it can contribute to conservation is besides "just" living specimens the raising of public awareness (and thus maybe change of human behavior/activities that is often part of the problem), to generate some extra money to be spent on in-situ projects, improved conservation networking and data/information/results/experiences that might come in handy when really reintroducing specimens or managing wild populations (like: what anesthetic can be used for species X and in what dosage? what vaccine can be used safely? What population dynamics/behavior has to be taken into account? etc. etc.?) One of my personal favourite example of a good ex-situ project has not been mentioned yet: the International Center for Turtle Conservation (IZS). I just wonder of what will happen to that project if Elmar Meier is no longer.
    Overview : WAZA : World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
     
    Last edited: 3 Mar 2014
  7. casuariusb

    casuariusb Member

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    I and my colleagues have been suggesting this for over TWENTY years and are delighted that so many zoos now participate in in situ conservation. That said, the names of zoos who are active reoccur regularly while the vast majority still do not do very much, partly due to financial restraints. Zoos like Prag (don't know much about Czech zoos otherwise), San Diego, WCS, Atlanta, Bristol, Chester, London, Jersey, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Munster, Cologne and a lot more big ones do have ongoing projects of importance, but bearing in mind the total number of zoos the level of activity remains low.

    TheMightyOrca is also quite right, there are now a number of local (in situ) projects, which tend not to be accorded sufficient media coverage, in conjunction with non-zoo enthusiasts which are contributing to biodiversity conservation. This is one way in which zoos can do something which does not cost very much and binds it into the community – conservation can start at home and not necessarily five thousand miles away with a high profile species. Releasing toads from tadpoles gathered locally can have, all things considered, great beneficial effects.

    All of this good news still leaves the question of whether general ex situ captive breeding can contribute to conservation unanswered. Zoos have put themselves in the spotlight as the pivot on which species conservation depends and have created, willy-nilly, a huge number of programmes based not on the level of threat, but on the fortunate presence of animals in collections which are considered public favourites. Today all species are under threat so any construction by the zoo media department is technically correct, but surely the level of threat and the possibility of re-introduction should define the value of a programme and whether it should exist at all. A recent study, Martin, T.E., Lurbiecki, H., Joy, J.B. & Mooers, A.O. in Animal Conservation, noted that faunal groups in zoos are less threatened and less endemic than those not held. It is a complex problem and zoos do have to attract a paying public by offering species of interest, but if captive breeding is of primary importance and resources are limited then one does have to ask why some species should be given priority when less 'attractive', but more worthwhile alternatives exist. Breeding to please the public audience is not conservation.
     
  8. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    In several European countries, such actions are strictly forbidden, except for a few special federal organisations, due to past malpractice (among others, introduction of neozoa/neophyta).

    ...except quite a bunch of cosmopolitan species (Norwegian rat, German cockroach, feral pigeons, crows) and species with increasing ranges (Red-eared slider, raccoon, raccoon dog, Tiger mosquito, Hyalomma ticks...). It's the variety that is fading.

    Why are some species more prominently featured in zoos? Because they are more interesting for the public.

    A, say, tiny plain goby or a small greenish-brown leech are just not that interesting for an average person, especially when compared to popular megafauna. People are like that, and they won't change, no matter how much you will try to raise awareness for goby or leech. Sure, a well-done campaign or even better, a positive presentation of the less known species in a popular movie might make it more popular (think of lemurs or bats), but tiger, elephant and polar bear will still catch the public's eye. So why not keep the megafauna and spend some of the money gained from the public audience paying to see them on good projects (in- and ex-situ) for goby and leech? Several megafauna representatives could be considered "keystone" species for their individual habitat; the money spent on projects for their protection and thus habitat might benefit the less popular local species. And as for the current status of megafauna: one never knows how fast their situation might go south. Just think of the population drops of hippo, giraffe or lion over the last years. What some Western zoos could indeed improve is their involvement in local conservation. This might also include "minor" things, such as offering native wildlife better living conditions on zoo ground. However, this can be a double-edged sword (foxes, mustelids, rats, raccoons...causing more harm than good). Some zoos are already doing a fine job in that, others are still catching up.
     
  9. Jana

    Jana Well-Known Member

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    IMHO, even breeding just to please the public IS conservation as long as it brings in money, later spent towards nature protection. Or if it changes the public attitude favourably for the exhibited species.

    Re: kept species.

    One example of a conflict of interests when deciding on the collection plan:
    Czech zoos were critized openly by some local respectable NGOs active in large carnivore protection few years back, that too many of them don´t exhibit european/carpathian wolfes. That they have white polar wolfes or spanish ones or other exotic canine species instead of the native ones. Those NGOs argued that zoos would be able to significantly help local endangered wolfes by exhibiting them and promoting them in the usual way zoos do (individual naming, all those birthday parties, christening of new cubs etc.) to change the rather negative or apathetic attitude of the public. To make them "sexy" and "in". Surrounding countries have nice wolf populations (Slovakia, Poland, Germany), but every wolf that crosses our border is illegally shot within weeks/months, with a silent support of neighbors of such hunter. But Czech zoos prefer spanish wolfs (EEP), african hunting dogs (EEP) or polar wolfs (cubs easily placed in east) then european wolfs. With european wolfs - there is no need for a backup captive population for any future reintroduction, there is no organized breeding program or stubook, and potential cubs are nowhere to be placed europe-wide and would have to be culled. So zoos more and more decide to just castrate them and slowly phase them out from their collections.

    What is the right and the wrong decision in this situation? Are those NGOs right and zoos should continue breeding a "worthless" species just for exhibition purposes? Or are zoos right in their decision to phase out species with no organized breeding program and no need to preserve a backup population for reintroduction?

    Zoos have a long history. They started as not organized collections of interesting animals and kept species were those that were interesting to the public, available from animal traders and were able to survive and breed in captivity. These roots can´t be changed now, zoos have to work with what they´ve inherited from their ancestors and do the best possible. They shouldn´t carelessly waste the involuntary sacrifice of animals kept in the past. And even species that are not endangered now can go a slippery way wery quickly.
    Reticulated giraffe population used to be around 28,000 in 1998, to less then 5,000 in 2007, and less then 3,000 now (but officially still considered least concern by IUCN). Or look at many lion subspecies.

    Programs for many endangered animals that would actually need help can´t be started now unless zoos can find a source of the grounding population. At least 1 or 2 dozen genetically sound animals would have to be catched and exported. This is politically hard to go through and with so many red tape worldwide it is often just a dream to achive.

    Regional collection planning done by EAZA and WAZA is a very important task and interesting reading. Those people actually arbitrary decide what species will get this backup and which may slip from under our fingers if something bad happens in the wild. But they can´t just decide - this species is endangered and so we will phase it in. They must take into account so many things and stay within reality. How much space is available in zoos for such and such type of animal, how this carring capacity will look like in 20 or 30 years, which new species can be sourced in adequate numbers by catch/rescue centres, which already held species are genetically healthy enough to survive next 100 or 200 years as captive populations, which can be phased out without regretting it bitterly in a few decades? And so on. I reccomend to read it.
     
  10. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

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    This was posted on Facebook tonight by Zoos Victoria, and I thought it relevant to the discussion.

    :p

    Hix
     

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  11. dean

    dean Well-Known Member

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    I can't compare with Jana or batto for eloquence and knowledge, but I would like to add there are at least a few home grown breed and release animal here in the UK one is the water vole which chester zoo among others was working with, and the sand lizard Which have been zoo bread and released in large numbers over the years into suitable habitats, of course there is the problem. How much un fragmented never mind pristine habitats are left to release the animals back into? My local zoo Colchester Has it's own reserve in Africa with hoofed stock and the last I heard possibly leopards as tracks had been found, none of that would be possible with out the zoo back here, and its ambassador species.
    Also the idea that photos/ videos/ TV programs can fill the gap of seeing the real animal is way off the mark, for a start on screen an ant looks the same size as an elephant, OK so every one knows they aren't but people probably don't realize how big a giraffe can be or how small a Pygmy marmoset. A trip to a good diverse zoo collection can show them just that.
    My worry is that the zoo world is becoming as homogenized as every thing else with less and less variety and more and more duplication.
     
    Last edited: 3 Mar 2014
  12. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    LOTS of good points here, Batto. In an online discussion, another user suggested that zoos should be done away with and only sanctuaries should remain. I asked, how does one define a sanctuary? I never got a response back, but I was wondering something like what you're saying. A lot of terrible animal sanctuaries exist; an animal is going to be better off in a good zoo than a bad sanctuary. The Houston Zoo has a really big chimp exhibit where the animals have a lot of things to do; and what's more, many (actually, I think all) of the chimps are rescues: some were pets that were given up by their owners when they got to that age where they're no longer good pets, and the others were from the entertainment industry and got retired when they got too old. I've been to the exhibit and it's very nice; it would be hard to do much better. I also brought up the funding thing; lots of sanctuaries, even good ones, struggle to stay open. Taxes? Yeah, good luck relying heavily on that these days...

    Interesting point about "matter-of-fact animal husbandry". Lots of zoos keep animals that they never intend to breed, or animals that can't breed, and continue to care for them and keep them on display. A closed-to-the-public animal facility that focuses on conservation breeding would have a more difficult time doing this. A zoo can usually keep non-breedable animals and have them on display, because said animals are still providing educational value and can bring in money. A conservation breeding program? Any non-breedable animals aren't just useless, they take up those extra, valuable resources. And like you said, it's not like we can constantly build new rescue centers and sanctuaries. Hell, even right now, it can be difficult to find homes for exotic pets that were confiscated or given up.
     
  13. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

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