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Captive Breeding, Reintroductions, and Translocations as a Tool for Small Population Rescue

Presented by: Ronald R. Swaisgood, Ph.D., Brown Chair/Director of Applied Animal Ecology,
General Scientific Director, Cocha Cashu Biological Station, Co-Head, Giant Panda Conservation Unit, Institute for Conservation Research San Diego Zoo Global

Small population rescue is increasing in importance as more species become vulnerable to extinction, yet conservation biologists remain focused on biological levels higher, and sometimes lower, than species or organism.

As a result, at present we often do not have the necessary tools to manage or recover small populations. At the same time, we are learning that many species are vital to ecosystem health: top predators, ecosystem engineers and other keystone species may play a disproportionate role in maintaining the ecosystem.

I propose that there must be a call to action to resurrect species conservation as an important tool in the conservation toolbox.

Here I review some of the methods of species conservation that my colleagues and I have used to study, manage, and recover small populations. I will briefly review the use of behavioral ecology in conservation breeding programs, focusing largely on the role of sensory ecology with the iconic giant panda, the diminutive pygmy loris, and the disappearing mountain yellow-legged frog.

I will also review translocation and reintroduction biology, particularly the application of socioecology and habitat selection, drawing on real-world examples from black rhinoceros, Stephens’ kangaroo rats, desert tortoises, and other species. The role for translocation in particular is of escalating importance and predicted to play an ever increasing role for assisted migration to mitigate climate change precipitated species range shifts in fragmented habitats.

Lastly, I will address the role of habitat restoration in translocation programs, illustrating this strategy with an adaptive management approach to recovering burrowing owl populations. This project first targets vegetation management and ground squirrels, a non-endangered ecosystem engineer that modifies the habitat favorably for burrowing owls. When combined with efforts to understand, protect or restore habitat on which single species depend, species recovery through conservation breeding, translocation and reintroduction can make an important contribution to ecosystem conservation.

This and all other lectures in the Seminar Series will be held at the Beckman Center Meeting Room, (next to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido) at 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

Address to the Beckman Center:
15600 San Pasqual Valley Road
Escondido, California 92027


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