Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Captive Breeding endangered species

All over the world zoos use captive breeding of endangered species as one of the justifications for keeping animals in captivity. Personally I do not have any great objections to animals in captivity, provided they are well housed, and kept humanely. I believe that seeing animals in zoos can have very positive educational benefits. I certainly had my love of wildlife greatly encouraged by regular visits to zoos, and by keeping animals myself. But for over a quarter of a century, I have been questioning the validity of captive breeding as a justification for zoos.

During my last visit to India I visited the Madras Crocodile Bank, and here was a clear demonstration of the dilemma that faces those involved in captive breeding. The Crocodile Bank has been so successful in breeding almost all the species it keeps, that most are now separated into single sex enclosures to prevent further breeding. There simply is nowhere else to release them into the wild. Surplus animals are sent to other zoos, and no doubt some of those zoos keeping endangered crocodiles will use them to justify themselves. But clearly there is no need for them to be kept on conservation grounds. What conservation really needs is some more habitat to be purchased and conserved.

One of the areas the WLT is hoping to assist the Wildlife Trust of India is in the purchase of mangroves and regeneration of mangroves in coastal areas. It would be very nice to be able to acquire a large enough area to reintroduce crocodiles -- but somehow I doubt we will be able to. Crocodiles are, unfortunately large predators, and humans often form part of their natural prey, so a very large are of habitat would be needed if they are not to come into conflict with human population. But if someone gave us a couple of hundred thousand pounds or more -- it could be done, as the land is available, and the crocodiles are waiting.

And more to the point, this is one of the reasons the WLT is working closely with the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums -- our Wild Spaces programme will compliment the work of zoos, providing opportunities for in situ conservation.


  1. Just briefly - is there not also the issue of pathogens, and the deterioration of the captive animals' immune systems to wild pathogens due to lack of exposure?

    I believe that several species of ungulates (antelopes) become fatally compromised by captivity because they lose their immune response to specific viruses and internal parasites. Especially so if they are captive bred, and so have never had a chance to acquire 'wilderness' exposure.

    If this is the case more broadly, are not all captive animals in a sense "the walking dead"? They cannot be what they truly are behind bars, and they cannot live (for very long) if released.

  2. Zoos provide very limited help to captive breeding - there have been very few successful reintroductions, and only about 1% of zoo space is given over to captive breeding programmes. Most species you see in Zoos (Elephants, Lions, Hippos, etc.) aren't endangered and are just there to provide entertainment for the public. If we put the money that was spent on Zoos in to projects like the World Land Trust, many more species would be saved from extinction.