Zoos can help conserve only a small minority of the species threatened with extinction. Clear and rational criteria for identifying which threatened taxa zoos should focus on are therefore essential. Current priorities for ex situ conservation stress the importance of large vertebrates. We show that this hampers the efficient use of resources because such species are less likely to breed well in captivity than smaller‐bodied taxa and, despite longer generation lengths, are more costly to maintain in long‐term breeding programs. Moreover, although reintroduction to the wild frees zoo space for other species and is the ultimate aim of captive breeding, zoos show no tendency to target species for which continued habitat availability makes reintroduction a realistic prospect. We suggest that zoos adopt selection criteria that reflect the economic and biological realities of captive breeding and reintroduction if they are to maximize their contribution to species conservation, and we present data on the preferences of zoo visitors indicating that doing so need not adversely affect zoo attendance.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Jun 1, 1996
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