Conservation Breeding Programmes

Zoos and aquariums take part in cooperative international and regional ex situ breeding programmes to form viable populations that can benefit in situ conservation efforts. These breeding programmes serve many purposes:

  • Support demographic and genetic backup to wild populations
  • Provide animals for public education
  • Support important research
  • Provide awareness opportunities as ambassador animals

Zoo and aquarium populations must be viable over the long term, which means that they must be demographically stable, genetically healthy, well-maintained and capable of self-sustaining reproduction, distributed among several institutions to lessen the risks of catastrophic loss and of sufficient size to maintain high levels of genetic diversity.

Conservation breeding programmes are typically managed by regional associations, which have established special committees (Taxon Advisory Groups, or TAGs) to oversee the work. These efforts may include data collection, long-term ex situ population management, or in situ conservation programmes that result in reintroduction to the wild.

In North America, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) uses the Species Survival Plan (SSP) to maintain healthy, self-sustaining, genetically diverse and viable, as well as demographically stable populations of each species in human care, and to organise zoo and aquarium-based efforts to preserve the species in situ.

In Europe, the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) is the population management tool for species kept in European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) institutions.

Other regional associations also manage breeding programmes, such as the Australasian Species Management Program (ASMP) of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) Australasia.

In 2003 WAZA adopted the Global Species Management Plans (GSMPs), a procedure for establishing inter-regional programmes that may include a number of species for which international studbooks have already been established.

Conservation Breeding Programmes

Animal collections in individual zoos and aquariums are typically too small by themselves to be of much value to long-term conservation. Therefore, cooperative international or regional ex situ breeding programmes are required to form larger, viable populations. These cooperative breeding programmes serve many purposes: providing animals for public educational and/or exhibit opportunities; providing fundraising material; providing research collections from which to gain basic knowledge of animal biology and husbandry; and, on a larger scale, providing demographic and genetic backup to wild populations. To serve fully in all of these roles, these populations must be viable over the long term. This requires that they be demographically stable, genetically healthy, well maintained and capable of self-sustaining reproduction, distributed among several institutions to lessen the risks of catastrophic loss and of sufficient size to maintain high levels of genetic diversity.

Since the exchange of animals between regions is expensive and – mainly due to veterinary restrictions – sometimes quite difficult, conservation breeding programmes are typically established and administered at the level and under the auspices of the regional associations. The measures implemented by regional associations may be limited to the collection of data (regional studbooks), they may aim to maintain a long-term ex situ population or they may be linked to in situ conservation, for example by producing animals for reintroduction into the wild. To manage their programmes and to assist the studbook keepers in their work, the associations have established special committees, taxonomic advisory groups and scientific advisory groups. The following examples show what is meant by such regional breeding programmes.

The Species Survival Plan (SSP), an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) copyrighted breeding and conservation programme, is designed to maintain a healthy, self-sustaining, genetically diverse and viable, as well as demographically stable population of a species in human care, and to organise zoo and aquarium-based efforts to preserve the species in situ. Each SSP manages the breeding of one species. New SSPs are approved by the appropriate AZA Taxon Advisory Group, which manages conservation programmes for related groups of species (apes, raptors, freshwater fishes, etc.) or by the AZA Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee. Each SSP has a qualified species coordinator who is responsible for managing day-to-day activities. Management committees composed of elected experts assist the coordinator with the conservation efforts for the particular species. The overall programme is administered by the AZA conservation and science department in Silver Spring, Maryland, in consultation with the AZA Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee.

The European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) is the most intensive type of population management for a species kept in European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) zoos. Each EEP has a coordinator who is assisted by a species committee. The coordinator collects information on the status of all the animals kept in EAZA zoos and aquariums of the species for which he or she is responsible, produces a studbook, carries out demographical and genetic analyses, produces a plan for the future management of the species and provides recommendations to participating institutions. Other regional associations also manage breeding programmes, such as the Australasian Species Management Program (ASMP) of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) Australasia.

In addition, at its 2003 Annual Conference, WAZA adopted a procedure for establishing inter-regional programmes, which may concern a number of species for which international studbooks have been established. These programmes, now called Global Species Management Plans (GSMPs), are those officially recognised and endorsed by WAZA.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, zoos and aquariums, dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world.

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