Breeding Species on the Brink

Jun 11, 2013

Conservation Breeding Programs

At an unmarked turn, just south of Calgary, there is some remarkable conservation work underway. You’re almost guaranteed never to have seen it – and that’s kind of the point.

Conservation breeding is not as simple as putting two animals together. It takes a lot of dedication, but the end result is worth it.

“The zoo’s Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre (DWCC) is where we concentrate on endangered species breeding for direct and critical reintroductions to the wild,” explains Curator Colleen Baird. Here, a team of zookeepers helps provide optimum conditions for species, such as Vancouver Island marmots and whooping cranes, to mate and produce offspring. That means providing them with peace and quiet. “For several months of the year, breeding is our primary focus,” explains Colleen. “With whooping cranes, for example, from March to June three zookeepers focus on artificial insemination, monitoring breeding, egg incubation and transporting the eggs to their final destinations at various release facilities. It’s all in an effort to put these birds directly back into the wild.”

The Conservation Research Connection

Ties with the zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research are also critical. “We are connected with our research team to ensure we have successful hatching or breeding with the species under our care. The zoo’s scientists conduct studies that tell us how we can adjust things to increase success.” 

Working With Other Accredited Zoos

Endangered species breeding doesn’t only happen at the DWCC. The zoo, in cooperation with accredited zoos throughout North America, participates in managed breeding programs, called Species Survival Plans, for many species facing extinction in the wild – western lowland gorillas, Amur tigers and red pandas, just to name a few. Regardless of the species, the objective is the same: maintain healthy, genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations. Why? These programs could one day support animal reintroductions or efforts to increase genetic diversity in wild populations using assisted reproduction techniques.

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to run successful endangered species breeding programs, but Colleen says it’s all worth it. “Without zoos, several species – including Vancouver Island marmots and whooping cranes – wouldn’t exist in the wild. Being part of that conservation effort is amazing,” says Colleen.

As published in the Spring 2013 issue of the Calgary Zoo’s Wild Life member magazine.

Photo by Oli Gardner