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Keywords:

  • integrated conservation;
  • intensive population management;
  • population management;
  • sustainability;
  • species conservation

For the last 30 years, cooperative management of irreplaceable animal populations in zoos and aquariums has focused primarily on the goal of minimizing genetic decay within defined time frames, and large advances have been made in technologies to optimize genetic management of closed populations. However, recent analyses have shown that most zoo programs are not projected to meet their stated goals. This has been described as a lack of achieving “sustainability” of the populations, yet by definition a goal of managed decay is not a plan for sustainability. True sustainability requires management of the resource in manner that does not deplete its value for the future. Achieving such sustainability for many managed populations may require changing from managing isolated populations to managing populations that are part of a broader metapopulation, with carefully considered exchange between populations across a spectrum of ex situ to in situ. Managing zoo populations as components of comprehensive conservation strategies for the species will require research on determinants of various kinds of genetic, physiological, behavioral, and morphological variation and their roles in population viability, development of an array of management techniques and tools, training of population managers in metapopulation management and integrated conservation planning, and projections of impacts of management strategies on the viability of the captive populations and all populations that are interactively managed or affected. Such a shift in goals and methods would result in zoo population management being an ongoing part of species conservation rather than short-term or isolated from species conservation. Zoo Biol. 32:19-26, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.