Captive breeding

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The World Wildlife Fund defines Captive Breeding as the process of breeding animals outside of their natural environment in restricted conditions in farms, zoos or other closed facilities.


Why should I be aware of this?

In captive breeding, the choice of individual animals that are to be part of a captive breeding population, and the mating partners within that population, are controlled by humans. [1]

Critics of Captive Breeding argue that animals should be rescued before they reach the brink of extinction, instead of resorting to such extreme tactics when it might be too late. In fact, conservationists adopt many other ways to conserve threatened and endangered species -- afforestation, protecting animal habitats, empowering local communities living next to endangered animal habitats and raising awareness to name a few. However, when animal populations fall so drastically that there seems little hope of being able to revive them through these above means, Captive Breeding becomes significant. WWF considers captive breeding of rare species, threatened species, or endangered species, with the aim of eventual reintroduction to the wild, to be a “last resort” strategy for severely endangered animals..

All about captive breeding

Captive breeding generally has one or more of the following aims [2]

  • To produce animals for commercial purposes (pets, food, fibre, medicine, and other human uses).
  • To produce animals for zoos, aquaria, research institutions, and other public facilities.
  • To increase captive population numbers of threatened or endangered species. In some cases, these individuals are part of a management programme aimed at eventually reintroducing captive-bred animals into wild habitats and populations. In other cases, captive facilities claim to be breeding animals for such purposes -but the animals may not be suitable - or they are not part of a legitimate conservation and management programme.

Commonly Used Terms in Captive Breeding

  • Ex situ conservation: captive breeding, gene and seed banks, zoos and aquaria and all other forms of maintaining species artificially and off-site. Contrasts with in situ methods such as parks and habitat management.
  • Introductions: releasing animals (captive or wild born) where they never existed. Usually because old habitat is gone or degraded, not available, but the new habitat is considered suitable
  • Reintroductions: releasing captive born animals where they once existed. Only successful after you have corrected the cause(s) of the original population decline.
  • Translocations: moving wild-born animals from one place to another. This is done when the wild population is in imminent danger of extinction due to habitat alteration. One of Michigan's three populations of endangered redside dace (Clinostomus elongatus) was about to be wiped out by the installation of a new sewage treatment plant which would discharge lethal levels of ammonia into the section of the small creek where the fish live. In a last-ditch effort, a few concerned scientists gathered some fish and translocated them to Flemming Creek in the Botanical Gardens, where a small population established successfully.

Significance of Captive Breeding

  • Captive breeding is the only hope of survival for animals who are facing extreme endangerment in the wild or that have died out completely in the wild. A captive breeding program’s goals is to keep the species from becoming extinct and, if enough are breed, to reintroduce the species into the wild..

Arguments Against Captive Breeding

There are many difficulties with captive breeding.

  • The species may become so alike, that it cannot easily adapt to environmental changes.
  • Captive Breeding may result in inbreeding, which results in a higher mortality rate.
  • The animals bred in captivity may not develop and hone the skills they need to survive in the wild. The animals bred in captivity also eventually get used to the small boxes and cages they are put and born in.
  • Some argue that in Captive Breeding programs, animals are not treated the right way. Since captive breeding programs haven’t been that successful, and not produced many animals, people argue that soon, animals will be breeding with close relatives, which is not good.

Species Survival Programmes

A species-survival plan is a program that is similar to that of a captive breeding program. A species-survival plan’s goals are very similar to the goals of a captive breeding program. The goals of a species-survival plan are to reinforce the population of that species by providing genetic material to reinforce wild populations that are dying out. A species survival program, however does not breed animals to be released into the wild.

Captive-breeding programs can contribute to biodiversity by breeding species and reintroducing them to the wild. They encourage biodiversity because they can provide a sudden population boom to a place totally void of that species. Captive breeding can contribute to the health of ecosystems by contributing to the balance of herbivores, and carnivores.

Species-survival plans contribute to biodiversity the same way a species survival plan does. The only difference is, that they provide population booms by providing DNA samples of that species.


  • It has been estimated that twenty percent or more of the world's biological diversity may be lost within the next few decades. This extinction crisis is a result of massive habitat destruction and alteration around the globe.[3]
  • One of the best examples of a successful Captive Breeding Program can be seen with the American Alligator. Years ago, it was listed as an Endangered Species. Today there are over 1 million of them residing in the Florida Everglades alone, thanks to Captive Breeding!

View It

See live web cams of many endangered animals in captivity on Tiger Homes

See Also


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]


  • Captive Breeding Programs and Species Survival Plans: Do They Work?
  • Against Captive Breeding
  • WWF Policy Document