Yes, captivity breeding is undoubtedly a complex and emotionally charged topic. It often elicits strong reactions from people, and rightly so. The reality is that discussions around it are seldom black or white; there’s a myriad of shades of gray that we must explore before endorsing any practice as unconditionally justifiable. Recently, there has been a troubling trend of silencing individuals who dare to ask questions or express concerns about captivity breeding—an attitude that should not prevail. In today’s world, it takes true courage to raise uncomfortable yet essential questions, especially when everyone feels entitled to an opinion, regardless of whether it’s well-informed or not.

Instead of shutting down dissenting voices, we should foster an environment of humility and compassion, welcoming legitimate concerns and inquiries. By delving into the nuances of captivity breeding programs and understanding their true outcomes, we can ensure that these programs genuinely benefit the species they aim to protect.

It’s true that there is a notable public affection for captive breeding, which may be partly fueled by media bias. Dramatic and successful programs often receive more attention from reporters, while failures are frequently overlooked. However, the harsh reality is that raising and breeding wild animals in captivity is an immensely challenging task, and releasing them successfully into the wild is even more so. Moreover, the costs associated with captivity breeding programs must be weighed against the effectiveness of in-situ conservation efforts—a comparison that often reveals discrepancies.

While some well-managed and thoroughly researched captive breeding programs have led to the recovery of endangered species, such as the black-footed ferrets and California condors, it’s essential to approach each program on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately, captive breeding is sometimes used as a default strategy without considering its broader implications. From prohibitive costs to low success rates, welfare issues, and genetic loss, there are numerous factors to consider.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) itself advocates for captive breeding as a last resort, acknowledging that it cannot address the root causes of ecosystem destruction or remove threats facing species. For instance, despite extensive efforts to reintroduce captive-bred California condors into the wild, conservationists faced unforeseen challenges, such as lead poisoning from ingesting shot pellets. This highlights the complexities and limitations of captive breeding as a conservation tool, underscoring the importance of holistic approaches to conservation that address underlying environmental issues.

Now, here is a short insightful high-level article to get you started on the topic:

Let the Bustards Be

When you’re witnessing a disaster like the current extinction crisis unfold, doing something feels better than doing nothing. That’s one reason captive breeding programs are so common-it’s difficult to stand by and watch a species careen toward oblivion. But a new study says our interventionist urges often lack scientific support and, in some cases, do more harm than good.

If you want to know more about this delicate topic then there is the scientific literature that goes with it… Go ahead and enjoy for instance Ark or park: the need to predict relative effectiveness of ex-situ and in situ conservation before attempting captive breeding by Dolman, P.M. & al. in the Journal of Applied Ecology (2015). Also, check the science work listed in our references below.

There is a lot of evidence out there at our disposal, a lot for us to learn about this issue, then become aware and incite those programs to improve and generally move in the right direction. Sharing real information is really caring…

References & Extended Bibliography

Ark or Park: The Need to Predict Relative Effectiveness of Ex situ and In situ Conservation Before Attempting Captive Breeding by Dolman, P.M. & al. in the Journal of Applied Ecology (2015)

Captivity Effects on Wide-ranging Carnivores by Clubb, R. & Mason, G. (2003)

Zoos and Eyes: Contesting Captivity and Seeking Successor Practices by Acampora, R. (2005)

Captivity for Conservation? Zoos at a Crossroads by Keulartz, J. (2015)

The Ethics of Captivity by Gruen, L (2014)

Sources of Stress in Captivity by Morgan, K. & Tromborg, C. in Applied Animal Behavior Science 102 262-302 (2007).

Ecological Ethics in Captivity: Balancing Values and Responsibilities in Zoo and Aquarium Research under Rapid Global Change by Minteer, B.A. & Collins, J.P. (2013)

Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery by Snyder, N. & al. (1996)

Captive Breeding – 2007 WWF Policy Statement


July 12th 2017 | by Claire O’Neill 

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