Captive breeding for conservation

7 08 2008

My first attempt at this potentially rather controversial section of Inspired by my latest post (30/07/2008), I must comment on what I believe is one of the biggest wasters of finite conservation (financial) resources – captive breeding for population recovery. The first laureate of the Toothless category goes to 7 authors (Snyder et al.) who I believe deserve at least a round of beers for their bold paper published way back in 1996 in Conservation BiologyLimitations of captive breeding in endangered species recovery.

The paper describes basically that in most situations, captive breeding for population recovery is ill-conceived, badly planned, overly expensive and done without any notion of the particular species’ minimum viable population size (the population size required to provide a high probability of persistence over a long period). Examples of ridiculous cloning experiments done in the name of ‘conservation’ (one example with which I am familiar is the case of the SE Asian banteng cloning experiment – these conservation-challenged scientists actually claimed “We hope that the birth of these animals will open the way for a new strategy to help maintain valuable biodiversity and to respond to the challenge of large-scale extinctions ahead.” after spending amounts that would make Bill Gates blush). Come on! Minimum viable population sizes number in the thousands to tens of thousands (e.g., Brook et al. 2006; Traill et al. 2007), not to mention the genetic diversity necessary for persistence captive populations generally lack (see Frankham et al. 2004).

In the spirit of ecological triage, we must focus on conservation efforts that have a high probability of changing the extinction risk of species. Wasting millions of dollars to save a handful of inbred individuals (insert your favourite example here) WILL NOT, in most cases, make any difference to population viability (with only a few exceptions). Good on Snyder et al. (1996) for their analysis and conclusions, but zoos, laboratories and other captive-rearing organisations around the world continue to throw away millions using the ‘conservation’ rationale to justify their actions. Rubbish. I’m afraid there is little evidence that the Snyder et al. paper changed anything. (post original published in Toothless 31/07/2008).

CJA Bradshaw

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5 responses

26 06 2015
Just give them a lift |

[…] fairly difficult to alter reproductive rates unless you do some assisted breeding programme (which generally don’t do much for the conservation status of a species) and you can’t really alter age at maturity or growth rates. You can stop or reverse habitat […]


15 03 2013
De-extinction is about as sensible as de-death |

[…] cost upwards of tens of thousands to several millions of dollars to clone a single animal. Like the costs associated with most captive breeding programmes, this is a nonsensical waste of finite […]


15 01 2010

Wildlife rehabilitation and reintroduction (archive)…

Wildlife rehabilitation usually involves common species, with the intent to release rescued animals to the wild. Sometimes more serious conservation programs involve translocating animals from one place to another, or raising animals in captivity to be…


9 01 2009
Measuring the amphibian meltdown «

[…] Although captive breeding might help to buffer some declining populations in the short term, such interventions cannot substitute for habitat protection and restoration. The synergies between ecological/life history traits and […]


20 08 2008
Paula Kahumbu

Wait a minute there Corey you are being a bit unfair I think. What about the black footed ferret, the golden lion tamarin, the condor? In Africa rhino’ were brought back from the brink of extinction and we have just released Bongo back into Mount Kenya…. how there is talk of breeding the orphaned already captive mountain and eastern lowland gorillas in captivity (ok I smile here because I think it’s totally nuts but at least we’ll get some of those lovely hairy beasts in my back yard!). Just a thought … do you think that we have the rights to tell a millionaire like the guys behind the Wild Oak Foundation – what to do with their money?


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