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Captive Breeding Programs: The Pros and Cons to Building an “Arc”

Captive Breeding Programs: The Pros and Cons to Building an “Arc”

Blog written by Emily Temple

Captive Breeding programs are departments within zoos, rescues, sanctuaries and so on in which animals are kept in enclosures and are bred to produce future generations of their species. There is great debate over whether these types of programs should be continued. This article aims to provide a basic approach to both the pros and cons to captive breeding programs both in the aspect of animal behavior and in animal conservation.

So let’s start with the positive aspects to these captive breeding programs. Zoos are some of the biggest funders of animal conservation projects and research, and where does that money come from. Most comes from the general public who pay to visit these zoos each year, multiple times a year, and those who feel compelled to donate. Some of the special draw that brings these people coming to the zoos is the possibility of seeing new cuddling, exotic, and special baby animals. For example the recent birth of a clouded leopard at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is or will be a great draw for people to come and pay to get into the zoo to see the cute little cub. Now captive breeding programs are not only there to bring in a crowd, their main point is to help conserve animals that are endangered or threatened in the wild so that a species doesn’t become extinct. Extinction rates are going up and it is predicted that 20-50% of the world’s species will become extinct in the next couple decades [1]. So zoos can act as somewhat of an “arc” by holding the world’s species in captivity and saving their genetic material from total elimination. Some of these captive breeding programs also have goals for the reintroduction of these animals back into a natural or wild environment. These reintroductions can help in conservation efforts by keeping population numbers up and decreasing inbreeding and genetic drift.

Now, on the flip side, there are some cons to these captive breeding programs. A big problem that arises with captive breeding programs is the sheer numbers of animals in captivity. Most facilities don’t have the resources or the space to support a larger breeding program. Also captive breeding programs have a high cost to support and properly care for each animal so they consist of few animals that can’t sustain a proper breeding population [2]. Another major con to captive breeding programs comes in on the animal behavior side. Even though care takers try their very best to make captive enclosures as natural and stimulating as possible, they fall short of a wild/natural environment. So with this change in environment comes a change in these animals behavior. Some major changes in behavior are a decrease in predator avoidance, decrease in foraging abilities, increase in sleeping patterns, decrease in overall activity, and some problems in social behaviors. Some captive species even have problems in reproduction such as the endangered rhino populations, and that calls in to question the effectiveness of their captive breeding program. These changes in behavior are a major factor in whether these animals can be reintroduced into the wild and if it would benefit their population.

So overall, the question still exists. Are these captive breeding programs a good a bad thing? Isn’t it important to have some individuals of a species still existing somewhere rather than go extinct completely? Or is it better to try and just support the wild populations as they are and use other conservation techniques to keep the endangered species going even though that risks complete extinction. The debate is still up in the air and maybe should be evaluated on a species to species basis.



Rahbek, Carsten. “Captive Breeding-a Useful Tool in the Preservation of Biodiversity?” – Springer. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1 Aug. 1993. Web. 31 Mar. 2015. <>.

Snyder, N. F.R., Derrickson, S. R., Beissinger, S. R., Wiley, J. W., Smith, T. B., Toone, W. D. and Miller, B. (1996), Limitations of Captive Breeding in Endangered Species Recovery. Conservation Biology, 10: 338–348. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1739.1996.10020338.x