With the boom of online social networking sites, odds are you know a dating couple who met online. But did you know that zoos have a network too for matchmaking their animals?
That’s right, 600 zoos worldwide maintain an international database with histories of two million animals. This data is used to manage breeding programs for endangered species.
Zoo curators’ are in charge of playing conservation cupid. They use studbooks to assess potential matches which can also accurately predict the genetic diversity of the offspring. Decisions about breeding individual animals can then be made before animals are moved from one zoo to another.
Moving animals to meet their potential dates is a complex logistical and administrative exercise, not to mention the preparation and care by keepers to ensure that the animals are ready to travel. For example, here at Taronga we brought Sumatran Tigers from Eruope and sent giraffes to New Zealand.
Even if the match on the computer seems perfect, there’s often still work to be done! The Curators work closely with zoo Keepers to ensure all introductions are carefully planned to set the pair up for a successful future as parents.
However, breeding programs aren’t all about producing lots of offspring. By carefully managing the breeding of the small number of animals in zoo programs, world zoos aim to retain 90% of the genetic diversity of a species found in the wild over a 100 years. Curators try to only breed those species for which there is a role for the offspring either in their own zoos or in a regional or global breeding program.
The network of zoos globally and regionally acts like a modern day Noah’s ark for many endangered and vulnerable species. The genetic management of these animals is paramount to maintain as much diversity as possible. Through managing the breeding of many species, zoos offer a unique contribution to conservation by providing a safety-net against extinction in the wild. Zoos hope that the species saved by these actions may be able to be used to repopulate the wild once the human population stabilises and wild animal populations can thrive once more.
By Erna, Senior Curator