The role of captive facilities in wildlife ranching

The Role of captive facilities in wildlife ranching

Antoinette Kotze, Craig Allenby & Dave Morgan 

1. National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, PO Box 754, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa;

2. Department of Genetics, University of the Free State, PO Box 339, Bloemfontein, 9300, South Africa;

3. African Association for Zoos and Aquariums, PO Box 60197, Pierre van Ryneveld, 0045, South Africa

Environmental threats and biodiversity loss caused by climatic changes, over exploitation of natural resources, escalating negative impact of invasive species and overall environmental degradation are all factors that influence the conservation of biodiversity on a global level. These factors point to a strong focus on the sustainable use of the environment. Captive facilities within established networks and wildlife ranching can play a powerful role with a strong integrated conservation mission in tandem with high welfare standards.

A unique role for the wildlife ranching industry can be emphasized in conservation actions, promotion of scientific knowledge generation and by providing expertise in the care of animal collections in collaboration with captive facilities such as zoos. Captive facilities are ideally suited to contribute to these actions through ex situ breeding of threatened species, research and public education, training and providing a huge resource of technical skills.

The common action for conservation of both captive facilities and wildlife ranching is to substantially enhance the survival of species and habitats, whether conducted in nature (in situ) or outside the natural habitat (ex situ). An example from a captive facility perspective is successful scientifically managed zoo populations and associated reintroductions. A zoo-based success story is the European Bison that was brought back from the brink of extinction to a small, healthy population. Basic scientific data is often available through longstanding study and documentation in captive facilities.

This data can contribute to information critical to species survival and the maintenance of genetic diversity and the viability of species both in situ and ex situ. Captive facilities have both the opportunity and the responsibility to produce this form of research information and to make it widely available to the wildlife ranching community through collaborative efforts.

Individual wildlife ranches conversely can provide the necessary facilities, tools and staff to conduct effective research and to develop a scientific culture which would be used to inform and improve breeding programmes and guide future directions. The industry should develop links and identify needs that can be addressed through collaborative partnerships with captive facilities. Research should focus mainly on issues of conservation of biodiversity and animal welfare and husbandry. With high-quality research a well-validated body of knowledge based on internationally accepted principles, suitable for sharing is produced.

Research results are particularly valuable in terms of identifying problems, characterizing and solving these and contributing to the prioritization and decision making processes for conservation, animal welfare and other purposes. Research plays a vital part in the expansion of scientific knowledge and can be transferable in far wider contexts within the wildlife industry, especially wildlife management in the field. Research is thus a tool for the captive facility and wildlife rancher to assist in doing any activity better.

The high priority research targets specifically aimed at wildlife ranching should include the management of small or threatened populations, understanding the human impact on biodiversity, the restoration of damaged habitats and the promotion of  awareness of conservation. For example, captive facilities and wildlife ranches can both benefit from research through the practical application in husbandry, contraception, reproduction, population management, health and ageing. Benefits can also include socio-economic aspects on sustainability, visitor experience, communication, marketing and public relations.

One of the challenges for both captive facilities and wildlife ranchers are climate change and its impact on wildlife, the monitoring of existing and emerging infectious diseases, achieving biosecurity, applying methods for sustainability and the need to develop and transfer safe and appropriate new technologies for sustainable wildlife populations. Zoos already contribute to sustainable management through assurance breeding programmes with the potential for reintroduction of species that may become extinct.

As part of the United Nations’ programme to address the impact of humans on the environment, Agenda 21 was adopted as an initiative of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally in all areas where humans impact on the environment. Education and public awareness are key components of virtually all areas of Agenda 21. Captive facilities have a responsibility in terms of Agenda 21 to contribute to the achievement of environmental and development awareness in all sectors of society on a worldwide scale as soon as possible. It’s also the responsibility of the facilities to ensure and promote integration of environmental issues into training initiatives through the analysis of the causes of major environmental concerns.

The sustainability of conservation initiatives is largely dependant on the development of the publics’ understanding of the inter-relatedness of species and the environment and the peoples’ own attitudes and actions. Captive facilities are uniquely positioned to breach the gap between people and the natural world through the creation of learning experiences that raise awareness of environmental threats and biodiversity loss. This is accomplished through various awareness initiatives that change peoples’ attitudes to the care and concern for their natural environment. Awareness is channeled into actions that have a positive influence on the conservation of biodiversity and have a beneficial impact on the lives of people in the relevant biodiversity sphere. 

The public engagement functions of captive facilities incorporate the principles of environmental education and education for sustainability.

The education and awareness aims of captive facilities are:

•To excite, enthuse and interest people about the natural world.
•To encourage the understanding of conservation issues and peoples’ individual roles in them.
•To develop public support and action to address conservation concerns at a variety of levels.
•To provide a range of experiences and resources to people in order to allow them to make informed choices about their impact on the environment and wildlife.
•To place humans in their context to the environment.

Captive facilities effectively contribute to the conservation of biodiversity through a holistic approach followed within the organizations. This holistic approach sees all aspects of the operations focusing on a shared outcome, i.e. the conservation of species or biodiversity as a whole. The functions of wildlife breeding, various research activities and focus areas and the public engagement activity should collectively focus on the achievement of a common goal.
In addition to the holistic operational approaches within the facilities, widespread cooperation between likeminded organizations has led to unprecedented successes in both the breeding of endangered species and the raising of the awareness of environmental threats. An example of this would be the current global amphibian crisis. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) partnered with two branches of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC), the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) and the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) to form the Amphibian Ark (AArk).

Since 2006 the Amphibian Ark has been helping the ex situ community to address the captive components of the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan. This initiative is aimed at saving as many species as possible by providing global coordination, technical guidance, training, necessary linkages to other IUCN groups, communications, and guiding publicity and capital campaigns.

The AArk coordinates ex situ programs implemented by partners globally, with the first emphasis on programmes within the range countries of the species, and with a constant attention to the obligation to couple ex situ conservation measures with necessary efforts to protect or restore species in their natural habitats.

The main goals of the AArk campaign are:

•To engage the public in amphibian conservation and gain financial support for AArk activities.
•To create partnerships among Zoos, Aquariums, Botanical Gardens, private and public institutions (universities, etc) and captive facilities around the world to ensure the global survival of amphibians.
•To raise funds for implementing the ex situ aspects of the ACAP (Amphibian Conservation Action Plan).
•To highlight ways in which the public can make positive contributions to conservation through activities in their daily lives.
•To draw the attention of organizations and institutions towards the importance of amphibian ex situ conservation.
•To stimulate a sustained and long-term interest in amphibian conservation and related interactions with the wider environment.
•To raise increased awareness about the protection of biodiversity through the conservation of amphibians.
•To strengthen fund raising and the global promotion of conservation.

The model employed by the AArk may in future prove to be a valuable option for the conservation of threatened species for the captive and wildlife ranching industries. The successful implementation of this model will result in the ex situ breeding of endangered species for eventual reintroduction in the in situ environment. An additional zoo-based example of the successful implementation of this model includes the reintroduction of the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) into their natural environment.

The African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZAB) that was formed in 1989 at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa based in Pretoria is an organization aimed at representing the interests of bona fide zoos and aquaria or captive facilities on the African continent. PAAZAB currently represents a total of 60 institutional, affiliate and associate members in 15 African countries. PAAZAB is a regional member of WAZA, CBSG of the IUCN and the International Species Information System (ISIS). The mission of the association is “Conservation through Cooperation” by coordinating, representing and promoting the interests of zoos and aquaria at national and international levels.

The association upholds modern zoo best practice in the provision of supportive environments for the animals, personnel and public; active involvement in the maintenance of biodiversity; management for the wider benefit of the community and the provision of education and research opportunities on animals and their environments. PAAZAB sees one of the primary functions of zoos and aquariums as healing the relationship between man, animal and their mutual environment.

Although any role zoos can play in wildlife ranching may be regarded as indirect, at the heart of this lies the philosophical distinction that captive facilities are about conservation while wildlife ranching with over-riding raison d'etre being agriculturally-orientated, both are mutually supportive of biodiversity conservation in the end.  

In summary, captive facilities can promote a sense of common purpose, leadership and partnership with the wildlife ranching community.

1. 2005. Building a future for wildlife: The World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy. Berne, Switzerland: WAZA Executive Office.


3.    Amphibian Ark. 2006. Global Infopack.