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September 26, 2007 - One of the methods often proposed to save endangered species is to breed the threatened animals in captivity and then release their offspring back into the wild at a later time. The theory is that by giving the animals a safe place to breed and rear their young, you're making it more likely that the species will be able to successfully survive in their natural habitats.
If you take an animal (or any living organism, for that matter) out of its natural habitat and introduce it to someplace new, natural selection takes over and traits that are favourable to the new location - in this case captivity - become more and more common in subsequent generations.
This poses a problem for animals in captivity because, try as we might, it's virtually impossible to replicate natural conditions in a zoo or recovery centre. Space is one factor. Many animals require large amounts of space in which to roam, swim or fly. Zoos can't be that large. In captive spaces the animals are also always safe, well fed and made comfortable. Such "easy" living may make for physically healthy animals that are able to reproduce more often, but it doesn't necessarily make them genetically fitter.
Can't rely on captive breeding to save species
Beyond the laws we have in place to protect endangered species how do you propose we protect these animals in the wild?
The resolution mentions a few of the Endangered Species Act’s most well known successes: bald eagle (increased from 416 to 9,789 pairs between 1963 and 2006), whooping crane (increased from 54 to 513 birds between 1967 and 2006), Kirtland’s warbler (increased from 210 to 1,415 pairs between 1971 and 2005), peregrine falcon (increased from 324 to 1,700 pairs between 1975 and 2000), gray wolf (populations increased dramatically in the Northern Rockies, Southwest, and Great Lakes), gray whale (increased from 13,095 to 26,635 whales between 1968 and 1998), and the grizzly bear (increased from about 224 to over 500 bears in the Yellowstone area between 1975 and 2005).
These are just a few of the hundreds of species whose populations have soared thanks to the Endangered Species Act. A recent study of all endangered species in the Northeastern United States found that 93% increased or remained stable since being placed of the endangered list. Few other laws can boast that kind of success.
100 Success Stories for
Endangered Species Day 2007
Throughout the world including the UK, thousands of zoo animals held in artificial environments with little stimulation, enrichment or opportunity to hide from the public gaze, display unnatural behaviour patterns. Even in the ‘better’ zoos, abnormal behaviour can be widespread, and include repeated pacing, rocking, vomiting and even self mutilation.
Some of these ‘stereotyped’ behaviours displayed by bored and frustrated animals have their basis in activities that occur naturally the wild. But in the impoverished confines of captivity, these behaviours can become compulsive and unnatural.