Conservation breeding programs, which also go by the name of species survival programs or endangered species breeding programs, are initiatives led by groupings of accredited zoos around the world – among them the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). These associations accredit zoos demonstrating the highest standards of animal care, animal population management, educational programs, research and conservation. They also coordinate conservation breeding programs. These programs are aimed at maintaining demographically viable, genetically healthy and diversified populations of certain animal species kept in captivity, in particular those that are threatened or endangered.
These populations have often been reduced to a few dozen or a few hundred individuals, and may therefore be subject to problems such as genetic drift or inbreeding depression. Management of the demographics and the genetics of these populations, based on scientific data, makes it possible to maintain a certain genetic diversity or at least to lessen its decline. This is a critical point, because it is genetic diversity in populations that endows them with the ability to adapt to changes in their environment and that ensures the species’ long-term survival. Many species survival programs take part in reintroduction efforts, where animals bred in captivity are released in the wild. Finally, these programs additionally allow us to raise our visitors’ awareness about the threats confronting these species in the wild, threats like habitat loss or climate change.
Animal population management
Management of animal populations that are part of species survival programs is complex and calls for meticulous planning and international coordination. For each of these programs, participating zoos, aquariums and conservation centers communicate detailed information at least once a year (age, sex, pedigree, health condition, reproductive status and so on) about the animals living there. Thanks to that information, biologists of AZA populations can make informed decisions with regard to the breeding, transfer, reproduction and care of the animals – decisions, for example, about transferring animals between institutions in order to get the best pairings for maintaining genetic diversity. All of this needs complex logistics and close cooperation among participating institutions.
At the Biodôme
The Biodôme, being accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), takes part in a number of SSP programs. The Canada lynx, the Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) and twenty or so other species residing at the Biodôme are part of these conservation breeding programs. In that light, the Biodôme recently received several Panamanian golden frogs – a critically endangered species probably already extinct in the wild – from the Vancouver Aquarium in order to breed them with some of the Biodôme’s individuals. After a few weeks of getting acclimated to their new environment and with the sensitive attentions of the animal care technicians, the little Vancouver frogs were matched with their Montréal counterparts. A few clutches later, some little tadpoles emerged from their eggs and enlarged the Biodôme’s resident Atelopus zeteki population.