Zoo Collaboration Endangered Species
January 15, 2014

Zoo Collaboration Would Benefit Endangered Species, Says Study

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

In a new report in the open access journal PLOS ONE, a team of international scientists is calling for a more concerted effort to care for and breed endangered animal species in captivity.

According to the report, the extremely hard work and large amount of resources spent on the conservation of these species can be hampered by international regulations, misguided strategies and a general lack of communication.

Study author Dalia A. Conde, and ecologist from the University of Southern Denmark, pointed out the discrepancy between populations of endangered species in the wild and those in captivity.

"The prevalence of threatened species in zoos do not always reflect the number of threatened species in the wild,” Conde said.

For example, many zoo collections are heavily focused on birds, yet there are few threatened birds species living in zoos. The study team noted that threatened amphibians, insect-eating mammals and rodents are also underrepresented in the world's zoos. Among endangered mammal species, about half, or 92 out of 201, are found in zoos.

The study team noted that this discrepancy makes zoo-based conservation challenging work.

"Many zoos hold only a small population of an endangered species and they are struggling to make the populations grow,” they wrote in their report.

The researchers added that large distances can make collaboration among zoos difficult if not impossible when it comes to endangered species.

“The zoos need to be able to share experiences and individuals with other populations in order to get a healthy growing population,” the researchers said. “But this is difficult, if not impossible, when there are thousands of miles between populations of the same species and it is highly challenging to get permits to exchange animals.”

The study team also noted that international legislation makes working collaboratively on endangered species programs difficult. To guard against trade and trafficking of endangered animals, many nations had made it extremely difficult to get permission to move an endangered animal across international lines – even for the purpose of captive breeding.

"This legislation is effective against trafficking, but it also prevents zoos from exchanging endangered animals, and this is a seriously huge barrier to developing breeding programs of endangered animals,”

Conde said. "Zoos need to be able to work together. Ideally zoos could coordinate their work on one or a few high-risk species by working together in regional clusters.”

The researchers said collaborating in regional clusters could be a way to remedy some of these problems.

"With the short distance to each other, the zoos can have a large common population of, say, 250 animals distributed in the various gardens in the cluster. Such a population will be less vulnerable than a population of 50 animals in one garden without contact to other populations of the same species,” the research team said.

"Such a strategic cooperation may mean that the individual zoo should focus on breeding programs for fewer endangered species, but it will provide a needed boost to the conservation work,” Conde said. “However, these kinds of programs are only possible when zoos are part of a global network… where it is possible to monitor the status of threatened species across the planet's zoos."

"We must not expect zoos do this work alone. The protection of the animals' habitats is equally important,” she added.