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Should we domesticate the most popular zoo animals?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Carl Jones, 24 Mar 2016.

  1. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    The zoo based, long-term breeding programmes that are most likely to be successful are with the classic zoo animals, for which there are always a demand, and which can be maintained, across collections, in large numbers. The obscure, small, retiring and cryptic animals are of limited appeal and the idea that we will be able to establish self-sustaining captive populations of these in mainstream zoos is unrealistic. The species that will persist are those the majority of the public want to see and are relatively straightforward to keep and breed: lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, macaws, flamingos and so on. The Meller’s ducks, Telfair’s skinks, mountain chickens and their ilk that do not have great public appeal are likely to be short-term curiosities destined to die out in captivity.
    For display species, where it is not necessary to maintain them for conservation purposes, the zoo community should be domesticating them. This it can do by breeding from the tame, docile animals that do well in captivity. Domestication is already well advanced in many captive populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish, with large, docile, boldly marked, or colour mutations being especially popular. If this idea is embraced by zoos, they will be able to exhibit white tigers and white lions with a clear conscience and there would be no need to worry about sub-specific or species purity.
    Domesticated animals will be better adjusted to captivity and show fewer behaviour problems and more inclined to interact with the public. They will be easier to manage and less prone to a range of stress induced diseases, and consequently will make better exhibits.
     
  2. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    There is no clear criteria what exactly is a domesticated animal. One which I read is that it is when different races or morphs start to form.

    If so, many animals common in collections were already domesticated in the late 20. to 21. century, as soon as differently colored lines/morphs were established in captivity: white lions and tigers, white fallow and red deer, color morphs of impala and wildebeest, white Bennet's wallabies, emu and rhea, many species of rodents, ducks, pheasants, parrots and seed-eating birds, reptiles like corn snake, bearded lizard and leopard gecko, lots of aquarium fish etc.

    Note, that reputable zoos keep studbooks to slow down domestication by maintaining genetic diversity and shun eg. white tigers. But I know of no zoo which would completely shun eg. white peacocks or ornamental races of aquarium fish, or petting zoo domestics. Not that would be sensible on the grounds of education.
     
  3. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    You clearly illustrate the point I am trying to make. Domestication in zoo animals happens very quickly, with selection for docile and promiscuous animals. The process can be slowed down by careful genetic management but it happens to all species and cannot be stopped. My suggestion is that since most zoo animals will never be used to repopulate the wild, zoos should selectively choose for animals that do well in captivity.

    Animals of conservation concern, and that are to be used for reintroduction, need to be treated seperately.
    .
     
  4. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    Isn't domestication something that breeds out pretty quickly? That's why we have lots of species that turn feral so successfully.
    No doubt there are examples of this not happening but in general I would expect natural selection to easily reverse domestication
     
  5. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    The effects of domestication can be very difficult, if not impossible to reverse, especially if the animals have been in captivity for many generations. Many species do become feral but their fitness is much reduced compared to wild counterparts.

    In the first generation of being in captivity the nervous, highly strung individuals, that are selective about choosing their mates are less likely to breed compared to the more docile and unselective individuals. Even with rigorous adherence to genetic management and the maintenance of the founder representation, the docile, more tractable and promiscuous individuals are the ones that are more likely to prosper.

    Domestication causes a reduction in the size of the brain, thyroids, pituitary and adrenal glands. How quickly these changes occur is likely to be species specific although all species are susceptible to becoming domesticated and there can be changes in less than ten generations – and perhaps even within a single generation.
     
  6. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    I appreciate this proposal in theory, since most zoos are ill-suited and unwilling to contribute animals to reintroduction programmes. Inadvertent selection is one reason for that.

    In practice, however, active domestication would create genetic bottlenecks in already bottlenecked populations, reducing their viability and increasing the prevalence of genetic disorders that impair welfare – exactly the issue it would be intended to mitigate. There may also be a public backlash to "tame zoos".

    As an aside, are you the Carl Jones (of DWCT fame)?
     
  7. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    Domestic animals do not have to be genetically impoverished, they can be managed to maintain genetic variation as you can do in any breeding programme. The process of domestication could embrace good genetic management, provided there are enough founders.

    Does anyone worry about tame or domestic zoo animals? White tigers, albino wallabies, white peacocks and domestic strains of birds, fish, and mammals are all appreciated by the public. I would think the public would prefer the animlas to be better adjusted to captivity with a minimum of behavioural problems.

    I work for Durrell.
     
  8. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    I stand very happily corrected. I was not aware of the physiological changes; that is very interesting. Is the reduction in brain size uniform or does it affect only certain areas?
     
  9. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    It's the number of founders that's the problem, or rather the genetic diversity of those founders. Zoo populations almost invariably underwent a bottleneck when they entered captivity. Any sort of selection process would, by definition, act as another. In other words, breeding programmes maintain diversity by ensuring that every individual contributes equally to the next generation; domestication requires exactly the opposite. No amount of genetic management can alleviate that.

    I'm not sure what people would make of it, but it's something to think about.
     
  10. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    Somehow, this reminds me of the (fictious) scenario addressed in the original "Jurassic Park" novel, in which the head geneticist Dr. Wu tries to convince park owner Hammond to eliminate the existing dinosaur specimens and start with new, "tamer" and easier to manage versions. Hammond scoffs at this suggestion, believing that the visitors want to see "real dinosaurs", to which Dr. Wu points out that the visitors actually don't know what a real dinosaur would look like/behave etc. and that the current versions are already modified. This begs the question: would zoo visitors actually acknowledge and insist on the zoo animals staying "wild", or would they actually appreciate and even prefer more approachable versions? Given the mentioned popularity of "catchy" morphs and tame specimens, I wonder whether the latter is more likely to be true. However, in the face of limited resources and capacities, filling husbandries with domesticated specimens definitively not meant to be released might not be the smartest option in regard to conservation, or rather, the role zoos want to play in conservation.
     
    Last edited: 26 Mar 2016
  11. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    Should we domesticate......?

    I understand that certain genes get switched off in a captive setting. However, given that many domestic species go feral so readily and successfully, maybe they switch on again when needed? I'm thinking of horses, goats and chickens, all of which revert to the wild and appear to do well, as long as they belong to relatively 'natural' breeds. A lot of the behaviour of domestic animals is learned. For example, chickens that have been fostered by another pheasant species, can grow up as wild as wild-caught Junglefowl, and take months to tame down.
     
  12. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    Great points. Whether we like it or not species kept for multiple generations become domesticated. Of course some show an ability to become feral although these tend to be species where they are allowed to lead free-living existances. Some breeds of free-ranging chickens or farm cats come to mind. Others have great problems after just a few generations in captivity, the wild turkey for example.

    Captive-bred wild turkeys released to the wild have been shown to have higher rates of mortality when compare with translocated wild-caught birds, because they were more docile and prone to being caught by predators. Initially there was a problem of hybridisation in captivity between wild turkeys and domestic strains. Once it was realised that the domestic turkeys were reducing the fitness of the birds when they were released, they were excluded.

    As a result of these early observations game farm strains have been developed that are derived from wild turkeys, but even though these are now pure, or close to pure wild turkeys, they have shown very rapid selection favouring captive conditions, and “the breeding out of wild characteristics”. The use of game-farm turkeys is credited with having “slowed the wild turkey comeback in North America for almost two decades” Game-farm turkeys were released in almost 800 sites yet less than 40 (5%) resulted in new populations. By contrast wild trapped turkeys translocated to 968 sites across 36 states, resulted in 808 of them (82%) establishing new populations.

    Visitors want to see happy animals and zoos often make a point of stressing their animals are captive bred. I doubt if visitors want "wild animals".

    Most animals in zoos are not filling any active conservation purpose and what I am suggesting is that the commonly kept species are domesticated. Animals of conservation concern need to be kept seperate with a clear vision for the species' management and how that fits with its conservation in the wild.

    There is no conflict between domestication and genetic management. Of course you can select for characters that suit captivity and still maintain genetic diversity. Founder representation can be manged. In animals of equal founder representation you favour those animals to breed from with the traits best suited for captivity.

    In this age of genomics we are rapidly entering the era of being able to chose those characters we want with more accuracy than ever before.

    We need to embrace the domestication of the commonly exhibited zoo animals, and keep conservation breeding population seperate. Conservation important species should be kept in captivity for the minimum number of generations or with fluid movement of animals back and forth between the wild and captivity.
     
  13. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    A lovely example. We are now entering the era of gene editing and de-extinction. One day we will be designing species. So who knows......
     
  14. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    About domestic animals going 'successfully' feral: they succeed almost exclusively in human-modified places where natural predators were wiped out, and never if there is original wild species present.

    So all feral populations of cats, dogs, goats etc. are in suburbs, islands or island continent of Australia, where all large predators are extinct. Wolves kill out domestic dogs, feral pigeons are selectively picked by raptors out of flocks of wild-colored relatives etc.
     
  15. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    I respectfully disagree, but won't labour the point.

    I'd be more interested to hear whether you think visitors would be surprised/alarmed to learn that most zoo populations don't serve as a viable backup for wild ones? The ark analogy is an easy and evocative way for zoos to justify themselves and directly necessitates keeping animals in captivity. Is that an illusion we want to shatter, even if it’s largely inaccurate?

    Funnily enough, I thought of the same passage as Batto when I first read this thread.
     
  16. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    Domesticating a species requires some pretty intense selective breeding. A lot of popular zoo animals simply don't have a big enough population to allow that.
     
  17. Carl Jones

    Carl Jones Well-Known Member

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    One of the primary conservation roles for zoos has been to develop safe populations of endangered species so that should they decline or disappear in the wild, we always have a reserve population to draw upon, and populations can again be built up using captive-bred animals. This idea is one of the key messages put forward by zoos, yet the concepts of zoos as “arks” that provide “safety net” or “assurance populations” is seriously flawed.

    Long-term self sustaining captive populations of many species are unrealistic Many species breed well in captivity but others have failed to establish self-sustaining populations. If we look at some of those species that were brought into Uk zoos to establish them in captivity we failed:volcano rabbit, St. Lucia parrot, Rodrigues fody, Mauritius kestrel, Guenther’s gecko and Telfair’s skinks, while the Round Island boa, black lion and pink pigeon have small but faltering captive populations.

    Many of these species bred successfully for several generations before failing. The Gough Moorhen,an endemic and Vulnerable island species was kept in 22 different zoos across Europe in the 1990’s and bred readily, but had died out by 2008.

    The main reasons species die out is because zoos are unable to maintain large enough populations, a lack of room, a lack of interest from zoos in collaborating in the breeding programmes, and staff and institutional fatigue in the species. After working with a species for several years staff want new challenges, and the zoo marketing department new stories to tell.

    Of course there have been successes, and some species do well in captivity. Some of the species that I know well, are the Rodrigues fruit bat, the Bali starling and the golden lion tamarin, all thriving with many hundreds of individuals spread between zoos. However, with the exception of the golden lion tamarin, relatively few individuals from these populations have been, or are ever likely to be reintroduced to the wild from UK populations. So we need to tackle the question of what role these populations play and how they can be used more effectively for the conservation of their species?
     
  18. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    Zoos should actively cooperate with non-BIAZA and non-EAZA zoos and private breeders. They could provide space for smaller mammals, birds and herps. Zoos could also spread their expertise and ethics of conservation to these communities.

    Private people are significant 'resource' of space for keeping exotic animals. Zoos will not get it elsewhere.

    Perhaps, zoos could lease individual animals to private persons and make them involved in a breeding plan for one species, because making a private breeder to jump through all the regulatory hoops (expensive among others!) and give all animals to the disposal of BIAZA or EAZA is unrealistic.

    In fact, some breeders are even more skilled in work with their group of small animals than all but the best zoos.
     
  19. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    @Carl Jones: Thanks for your insight.
     
  20. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    That's an interesting idea. I know private breeding is often credited with advances in breeding species such as parrots and fish. The latter is especially valuable right now, since a number of tropical fish populations have been depleted for the pet and aquarium trade. (a not-so-fun fact, the popularity of Finding Nemo is ironically credited with a decline in clownfish populations) A breeder who is dedicated to their animal may be able to spend more time and resources on one species than a zoo that has to work with a ton of different species at once. (plus zoos sometimes really don't have much of a choice other than to put more resources towards popular animals, even if less popular animals need more help) Obviously there would have to be some kind of certification or something to ensure you're getting responsible breeders, but it sounds like a viable idea.

    You might be interested to know that the Wildlife News forum has an article on prisoners being taught how to care for and breed salamanders. I thought that was cool.