his part A we’ll be discussing a variety of conservation tools, including translocations and reintroductions, as well as the often-related captive breeding programs. These practices can generate a lot of questions both within and without the conservation community, and in some cases be quite controversial for many reasons (people worried about their safety and livelihoods, animal welfare concerns, etc.).
Reintroduction, reinforcement, and introduction programs might as a group be some of the more controversial conservation programs out there. Maybe the classic example of this conflict is the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park. From an ecological perspective, the program is a success — wolves have re-established themselves in the region, and the ecology of YNP has shifted back to closer to what it was like before their extirpation. At the same time, however, controversy over the wolf population is on-going and has developed over time (more recently conflict over wolf hunts in the region has been at the forefront of the discussion). This example does highlight the need to take a holistic approach to any sort of reintroduction/reinforcement/introduction program — you need to not only be concerned about the biological and ecological variables at play (quality of habitat, presence of threats, source of the reintroduced population, behavior of released animals, whether to use a soft or hard release, etc.), but also the social — are you able to get support for the project from local communities? What stakeholder groups might object to the project, and how might you gain their support?
Let’s not forget plants. Establishing new endangered plant populations can be vital to their survival. In many cases, these projects are somewhat simplified because there is usually – but not always – less conflict over them — the concern over wolves is just not the same as the concern over wildflowers, although certainly land-use questions can come into play. Botanical gardens and arboreta often play an important role in projects like this, either by leading the project or providing the plants and seeds to be reintroduced. Although at one point these gardens were primarily used for enjoyment, increasingly their attention is turned to conservation efforts. Some of these institutions also run seed banks, where seeds for rare species are collected and preserved for future propagation — basically captive breeding programs for plants. Seed banks are also found as stand-alone institutions, and sometimes are devoted to saving agricultural crops. Earlier this semester we discussed the conflict over pharmaceutical products developed using indigenous knowledge, who owns the rights to these substances, and who should profit from them. In part because of this, some countries have all but stopped allowing biological material to leave their country, which can make banking seeds of both wild and domesticated plants difficult.
That aside, maintaining “captive” populations of plants can be much less controversial than maintaining captive populations of animals. There are some important questions that need to be answered when developing a captive program for wildlife:
* What is the end goal? Reintroduction, or just maintaining a captive population?
* If reintroduction, what obstacles might prevent this from taking place? Is there suitable protected habitat, or are there plans for that to happen? Is there a disease (like chytrid for amphibians) that needs to be dealt with before reintroductions can take place? Is it a realistic goal to create a captive breeding program with the hope, but not certainty, that one day reintroductions will be possible, or should captive breeding programs only exist if there’s a clear path forward?
* If maintaining a captive population, should this be a goal? Should resources be used to maintain a population that would be kept for human education and entertainment? Can a captive program focused on maintaining a captive population be considered a conservation program? If the focus is on education, how best can the institutions involved make sure that educational goals are met as well as possible? If the focus is on entertainment, are there ethical questions about this?
* How best can the population be maintained for the purposes of reintroduction?
* What population size is needed to prevent inbreeding and maintain genetic diversity (remember, a large part of conservation is preserving evolutionary potential)?
* How might the behavior of the animals change to the point where they wouldn’t survive in the wild?
* How will this project be funded? How will it continue to be funded over time?
* Where will the population(s) be located? How will they be protected?
* What happens to surplus animals? What are the ethical implications of this?
* How can we ensure that captive animals’ needs are being met?
I want to pull out two ethical issues specifically: 1) ethics of having captive animals, and 2) educational efforts including captive animals. The first is perhaps epitomized lately by the controversy over SeaWorld and its orcas (in part via the movie Black Fin — an interesting example of the power that media can have). Is it ok to hold animals ill-suited for captivity for the purposes of entertainment? SeaWorld has maintained over the years that they also educate the public about conservation efforts, but they have been very unwilling to do any sort of evaluation on their programs so there’s no real way of knowing if they have any sort of impact (and, in fact, they have included erroneous and misleading facts in some of their educational materials). While this is really a problem in for-profit institutions, even many non-profit zoos and aquaria have a less-than-perfect record when it comes to evaluating their own educational programs and seeing whether or not they are as successful as they can be.
Your first additional reading is Why Individuals Matter. We’ve talked a bit about this before, but this piece speaks to the idea that conservationists often do not consider individual animals as the unit of concern and instead focus on populations or species. There are certainly animal welfare and animal rights arguments against this, too, but here Baker speaks of the importance of recognizing animals as individuals from specifically a conservation-orientation; in other words, if you lump all members of a species together, you might be missing important differences between individuals which could have long-term repercussions to your conservation efforts, and so arguably affecting the success of reintroduction programs.
Why Individuals Matter.pdf
Your second reading (Evaluating the Conservation Mission of Zoos, Aquariums, Botanical Gardens, and Natural History Museums) takes a look at these institutions’ value from a conservation perspective by posing a series of questions that can help them consider their role in conservation.
Evaluating the conservation mission of zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and natural history museums.pdf
Finally, I’ve added an optional reading that some of you might like to take a look at. It’s a short article on “Re-wilding” – perhaps more of a thought piece than anything, but the authors ask whether or not we should consider (re)populating the US with “cousins” of megafauna that’s long been extinct in the US (for example, African lions to take the place of large cats who went extinct in the Pleistocene). It’s an interesting read!
Re-wilding North America.pdf
1. Captive breeding programs and reintroductions can be quite expensive, both to start up and to maintain. Should these resources be put towards in situ conservation efforts instead? What criteria would you use when deciding whether or not to start a captive breeding program and/or a reintroduction program? (Note that these two types of projects are often — but not always — connected. You might or might not find it easier to address them separately. Your choice!).
2. Your readings describes several examples of animal reintroductions that have required additional human assistance (for example, supplemental feeding and “headstarting”). Do you think that we’re “tinkering” with nature too much? Or do you think that we’ve already “tinkered” with nature and so this is addressing our wrongs? Why or why not?
3. Think about a zoo or aquarium that you’ve been to. Do you think that this institution adequately addresses the questions raised in the Miller et al. reading from this week? Why or why not? Doing some additional research, such as looking at the website of the zoo/aquarium and/or reading reviews and other materials about the institution might be helpful.
This part we’ll be talking about Protected Areas, or PAs. PAs are generally considered to be terrestrial, and their aquatic counterparts are called MPAs for Marine Protected Areas, but for the purposes of this class when we’re referring to a terrestrial PA specifically, we’ll say terrestrial PA, and when we’re referring to a marine PA we’ll say MPA. Otherwise, assume we’re discussing both.
PAs are probably at or near the top of most conservation projects’ wish lists, and it’s likely that early conservation happened because of protected areas of a sort, most being tied to religion in one way or another – religious leaders naming a forest a sacred grove, for example. In theory, setting aside land that an endangered plant or animal needs seems like the ideal way to help protect species, and in fact often that’s the most important tool conservationists can use. But as with everything in this field, there are in myriad complexities with this approach, both ecological and social. Ecologically speaking, questions need to be answered such as how connected the PA will be to other protected sites, and what shape the PA will be in. The shape of the PA affects, among other things, how much edge habitat the PA will contain and how easy its borders will be to protect from encroachment and poaching. On the social side, questions need to be answered such as: what sorts of activities will be allowed in the PA, if any? Will existing residents be allowed to stay there? Will locals benefit from the PA? How will locals react to the PA?
Historically, PA’s generally were created in an ad hoc fashion — for example when a particular piece of land or coastal area was made available, or to protect a specific, usually charismatic, species. Because of this some of the land set aside for PAs was somewhat marginal in nature, such as land that was unsuitable for agriculture. Although these “marginal” areas can provide necessary habitat and resources for many species, it’s possible that by not including all the ecosystems in an area, by, say, leaving out rich grasslands and only including rocky areas, these PAs are not helping all the species found in the region.
Less thought used to be given to creating reserve systems that would connect one PA to another. However, this is now a priority in most places, and skills such as running gap analyses and reserve network design are highly prized (below see an image of a wildlife crossing in Banff National Park in Canada).
There are many different types of PA, and as a starting point, see the table on page 345, describing the IUCN designations. Some allow for no human use, except for carefully controlled research, perhaps, while others integrate humans into the park to a greater or lesser extent, from allowing limited visitors to including people who live on the parkland. Each approach has its own pros and cons and management challenges.
PAs are formed for many reasons and in many ways. Sometimes it is the landscape or biome that is being protected first, sometimes it’s a specific natural resource (a lake, or a reef), and sometimes a focal species is the starting point for PA creation. In other cases, protecting the cultural heritage of an area is the main mission of a PA, and any biodiversity conservation that occurs is either accidental or secondary (i.e., work is put towards this, but the PA wouldn’t exist without the cultural heritage being preserved). In an ideal world, conservationists, cultural historians, anthropologists, and other experts would be able to plan out a series of reserves that can best provide protection for what they’re trying to preserve both ecologically and culturally, while also involving local communities to ensure that their voices are being heard and their needs and wants are being taken into account. As you might imagine, though, it often doesn’t work out that way! Chapter 16 discussed reserve design in a fair amount of detail — be sure you read that chapter rather closely.
Establishing a PA is only the first step. These areas need to be managed with varying degrees of intensity, based on the issues they face and the conservation goals of the PA. In some cases managers might be fairly hands-off, but in others managers might do quite a bit of work, from managing prescribed fires to managing newly established populations of animals. In all cases, monitoring is necessary to make sure that the goals of the PA are being achieved, or at least that progress is being made. An adaptive management structure should be used so that adjustments can be made over time. At the same time, managers should not neglect working with local communities on the issues they face because of the parks, and also to work on what positives communities can gain from the parks. And at times enforcement becomes an issue — keeping people who do not belong in the park out of the park, preventing illegal activities like poaching, etc.