Captive Breeding programs have been developed since the 1960’s to provide a way to maintain populations in captivity without putting pressure on wild populations. In addition, it can lead to the re-population of a species through successful breeding and release programs, but this only works if done in tandem with conservation efforts to protect the habitats where these animals are being released.
Captive breeding programs have helped to save a number of marine and terrestrial species from going extinct. The first successful program was the breeding and reintroduction of the Arabian Oryx. The species has since increased to over 1,000 individuals, across Saudi Arabia and Israel, but the population in Oman has been significantly reduced once again due to poaching. There are only 50 in Oman and they are all male.
One of the more recent successes, and one of the most expensive, began in 1987with a breeding and reintroduction California condor program. The California condor was on the edge of extinction in the wild, but with the help of a captive breeding and release program, they were saved from the brink of extinction. At first, the program failed, after realizing that majority of the released birds were killed due to power lines or lead poisoning from consuming lead bullet scraps. The birds in captivity were trained to avoid power lines and the associated deaths have drastically decreased. In addition to the program, organizations worked intensely on habitat conservation efforts, and passed the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act in 2008 that prevented hunters from using lead bullets. In this case, it was a combination of breeding, training, habitat conservation and protection act that saved this species from extinction.
The success of the Golden Lion Tamarin is another example of how a species on the brink of extinction was downgraded from critically endangered to endangered. The downgrade in status was the result of many years of work by the captive breeding and conservation program at the Smithsonian National Park in Washington D.C. and the Asociação Mico-Leao-Dourado in Rio de Janerio Brizil. The release resulted in a new population and a total of six groups of Golden Lion Tamerins throughout the União Biological Reserve. The Tamarins are still threatened by habitat loss resulting from agriculture and logging.
Research on wild populations can often be limited and take years to complete, while observing animals in captivity on a daily basis can provide insights on a daily basis. The cost of the research is also reduced when conducted in an aquarium or zoological setting. For example, research in animal reproduction has lead to the ability to increase genetic diversity by inserting new genes into small genetic pools.
Captive breeding also ensures a public education program, allowing people to connect with animals that are threatened or endangered so that they can be inspired to have a greater appreciation for the world that we live in. These animals are ambassadors for their species and can raise public awareness about their importance and the need to protect them in the wild. The more the public can connect to the animals in captivity, the more the public will work towards saving a species from endangerment and subsequent extinction. In addition, it provides a source of revenue for the organization that houses the animals so that they can provide animal care, conduct scientific research, and promote and develop rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation programs.
Captive breeding programs allow for sustainability across zoos and aquariums and give hope to protecting species from becoming extinct. These programs are not cheap and often come under fire from activist groups. That is why it is important to highlight the benefits of the programs and raise awareness of how far a patrons dollar really extends. If it were not for the revenue generated by these facilities, the examples listed above and many other species would not have been saved from extinction. Thus it is important that we invest in this ‘insurance policy’ to protect the animals that could soon face extinction.