Many wild populations are under pressure from habitat degradation, disease and other factors which are affecting their population viability. Increasingly the science of small population management, developed primarily for sustaining zoo populations, is being applied to support fragmented wild populations. In addition zoos and aquaria use small population management to preserve the genetic health of many threatened species held in zoos, many of which are part of larger ‘insurance’ populations.
The science of small population management aims to sustain populations that are;
- Demographically stable, that there are adequate numbers of breeding age animals available to reproduce at the rates needed to increase or maintain the population at its desired size;
- Healthy, well maintained and capable of breeding when required;
- Distributed among several institutions to lessen the risks of catastrophic loss; and
- Of sufficient size to maintain high levels of genetic diversity to assist with the population remaining healthy and preserving the ability to adapt to changing environments either for release or long term insurance.
Zoos and aquaria operate as part of a cooperative network, particularly in conservation breeding. Many of the world’s zoos and aquaria work closely and collaborate on which species are held in which institutions and on their management. In order to maximise their conservation value, it is essential that zoo and aquaria populations are demographically stable, well-maintained and capable of self-sustaining reproduction.
It should be recognised that cooperative management serves many purposes including: providing animals for public education and/or exhibit opportunities; providing animals for release back into protected habitats; providing research collections from which to build knowledge of animal biology and husbandry; and on a larger scale providing demographic and genetic backup to wild populations.
The Wild Animal Encounters Foundation supports the work of Wild Animal Encounters and their involvement in regional breeding programs. These breeding programs are managed by the ASMP.
The Australian Species Management Program (ASMP) is the species management arm of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) of which Wild Animal Encounters is an institutional member. Through a large network of voluntary position holders working in member zoos, the ASMP provides coordinated management and planning recommendations for species residing in ZAA’s member institutions.