Friday, 6 July 2007

BBC Saving Planet Earth; Ramblings on the Ethiopian wolf

Last Monday's film of Graham Norton in the Ethiopian Highlands looked at the plight of the Ethiopian Wolf (aka: Simien Fox, Simien Wolf, Ethiopian Fox). Apart from the fact that Norton made a first rate, and serious presenter, it was a good illustration of the the real problems facing wildlife. HUMANS. The erosion of the wolf's habitat by the rapidly increasing human population, gradually creeping into the more remote and inaccessible habitats, such as that occupied by the wolf.

And with the humans come their domestic animals which carry rabies, distemper and other canine diseases fatal to the wild wolves. The solution: a massive vaccination campaign. Expensive, but effective. But meanwhile the human population continues to grow.

Interestingly, the one solution not mentioned was captive breeding -- which in the case of the wolf is an obvious safeguard. Canids are all relatively easy to maintain in captivity, and there is no reason why the Ethiopian wolf should be an exception -- surely it would make sense to have a small self sustaining population? However, there is clearly a conflict of interest in operation since the Ethiopian Wolf project featured in the BBC film is funded largely by the Born Free Foundation. This foundation also funds Zoo Check, and according to their website "The Born Free Foundation believes that wild animals should not be kept in captivity".

This is clearly a simplistic approach, and while I personally agree that whenever possible it is best to maintain endangered species in the wild, sometimes captive breeding is an essential part of conservation. Furthermore there is little question in my mind that zoos can and often do play, a very important role in education. There are plenty of good reasons, in my view, why wild animals should continue to be kept in captivity. I recognise that hand-reared orphan animals, or injured animals have no real role in conservation, but whenever I am brought one, I try and rear it. From Bank Voles to herons, from foxes to rooks I have reared dozens. As did the inspiration behind Born Free, the late Joy Adamson. In most cases it is irresponsible to release those animals back into the wild, for a variety of reasons -- as indeed the Adamson's found out to their cost. So surely the best place for these animals is in a well run zoo, where they can educate another generation, who may never get the chance to see animals in the wild?

And as far as the Ethiopian wold is concerned, an ex situ breeding group is surely an essential part of any conservation strategy for the future.

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