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The conservation-welfare nexus in reintroduction programmes: a role for sensory ecology

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Since reintroduction programmes involve moving animals from captive or wild environments and releasing them into novel environments, there are sure to be a number of challenges to the welfare of the individuals involved. Behavioural theory can help us develop reintroductions that are better for both the welfare of the individual and the conservation of populations. In addition to modifying captive environments to prepare animals for release to the wild, it is possible to modify the animals' experience in the post-release environment. For releases to be more successful, they need to better accommodate the ecological and psychological needs of individuals. A better understanding of sensory ecology — how animals acquire and respond to information in their environment — is needed to develop new, more successful management strategies for reintroductions. Sensory ecology integrates ecological and psychological processes, calling for better synergy among researchers with divergent backgrounds in conservation and animal welfare science. This integrative approach leads to new topics of investigation in reintroduction biology, including more careful consideration of post-release stress and the role of social support. Reintroductions are essentially exercises in 'forced' dispersal; thus, an especially promising avenue of research is the role of proximate mechanisms governing dispersal and habitat selection decisions. Reintroduction biologists have much to gain from the study of mechanism because mechanisms, unlike function or adaptive value, can be manipulated to enhance conservation and welfare goals.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2010

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