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Limited contributions of released animals from zoos to North American conservation translocations

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With the loss of biodiversity accelerating, conservation translocations such as reintroductions are becoming an increasingly common conservation tool. Conservation translocations must source individuals for release from either wild or captive‐bred populations. We asked what proportion of North American conservation translocations rely on captive breeding and to what extent zoos and aquaria (hereafter zoos) fulfill captive breeding needs. We searched for mention of captive breeding and zoo involvement in all 1863 articles included in the North American Conservation Translocations database, which comprises journal articles and grey literature published before 2014 on conservation translocations in Canada, the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America before 2014 as identified by a comprehensive literature review. Conservation translocations involved captive breeding for 162 (58%) of the 279 animal species translocated. Fifty‐four zoos contributed animals for release. The 40 species of animals bred for release by zoos represented only 14% of all animal species for which conservation translocations were published and only 25% of all animal species that were bred for releases occurring in North America. Zoo contributions varied by taxon, ranging from zoo‐bred animals released in 42% of amphibian conservation translocations to zero contributions for marine invertebrates. Proportional involvement of zoos in captive‐breeding programs for release has increased from 1974 to 2014 (r = 0.325, p = 0.0313) as has the proportion of translocation‐focused scientific papers coauthored by zoo professionals (from 0% in 1974 to 42% in 2013). Although zoos also contribute to conservation translocations through education, funding, and professional expertise, increasing the contribution of animals for release in responsible conservation translocation programs presents a future conservation need and opportunity. We especially encourage increased dialogue and planning between the zoo community, academic institutions, and governments to optimize the direct contribution zoos can make to wildlife conservation through conservation translocations.
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Keywords: América Central y el Caribe; Caribbean; Central America; acuarios; aquaria; ex situ populations; poblaciones ex situ; refuerzos; reinforcements; reintroducciones; reintroductions; zoos

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2019

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