The causes of the low breeding success of european mink (Mustela lutreola) in captivity


Correspondence to: Kairi Kiik, Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Vanemuise 46, 51014 Tartu, Estonia. E-mail:


High among-individual variation in mating success often causes problems in conservation breeding programs. This is also the case for critically endangered European mink and may jeopardize the long-term maintenance of the species' genetic diversity under the European mink EEP Program. In this study, breeding success of wild and captive born European minks at Tallinn Zoological Garden are compared, and the mating behavior of the males is analyzed. Results show that wild born males successfully mate significantly more often than captive born males (89% and 35%, respectively). On the basis of an extensive record of mating attempts, both male aggressiveness and passivity are identified as primary causes of the observed mating failures. All other potential determinants have only a minor role. Mating success as well as a male's aggressiveness and passivity are shown to depend more strongly on the male than the female partner. We did not find any evidence that the behavior of an individual is dependent on the identity of its partner. We suggest that aggressiveness and passivity are two expressions of abnormal behavior brought about by growing up in captivity: the same individuals are likely to display both aggressive and passive behavior. The results point to the need to study and modify maintenance conditions and management procedures of mink to reduce the negative impact of the captive environment on the long-term goals of the program. Zoo Biol. 32:387–393, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals Inc.