Love Is In The Air
February 14, 2011
Edmonton Valley Zoo helps endangered species find romance with real meaning
“Endangered female seeks short, green and spotted companion” might not read like a typical personal ad, but for Oregon spotted frogs and many other endangered species, finding the right mate is a bit like a high stakes dating game. Make a good match and you could help save an entire species.
The Edmonton Valley Zoo is one of many facilities across Canada that participates in managed breeding programs to help endangered species that face extinction. But finding the perfect partner in the animal kingdom can be complicated.
“We need to make sure animals in managed breeding programs are as genetically diverse as possible,” explains John Carnio, endangered species biologist with the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA). CAZA members use a combination of studbooks – complex and extremely detailed family trees – and computer programs, to determine the best pairings within a species.
It’s a little bit like online dating for endangered animals, but odds are that meeting your ideal match means relocating. “When we receive a breeding recommendation for one of our endangered animals, it almost always involves working with another accredited facility to relocate animals to or from another city, province or even another country,” says Sandy Helliker, Head of Animal Care at the Edmonton Valley Zoo.
A recent example at the Edmonton Valley Zoo is a pair of Goeldi’s Monkeys named Fred and Ginger. The two of them were based out of different facilities in Europe, but eventually made their way to the Edmonton Valley Zoo. So far, they have had one male offspring named Diego, with hopefully many more to follow.
Another example is Sha-Lei, a 18-month-old red panda from the Edmonton Valley Zoo that was recently sent to Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. She was paired with another red panda named Chang Tan, with the expectation that they’ll soon begin breeding. The two have been together for 10-12 days, and she’s adapting extremely well to her new home.
The tiny cubs, hatchlings, tadpoles and pups from managed breeding programs might not know it, but they have an important role to play. “The offspring that result support programs to reintroduce Canadian endangered species to the wild and help protect the genetics of other endangered species from around the world,” says Carnio.
CAZA currently has managed breeding programs for eight Canadian endangered species representing birds, fish, amphibians and mammals. Almost all involve reintroducing animals back into the wild.
CAZA members also cooperate with zoos throughout North America and around the world to exchange animals as part of managed breeding programs that help protect genetic diversity in captive populations. “Making sure that animals in breeding programs are as genetically close to their wild counterparts as possible provides insurance for the future,” explains Carnio. “If wild populations face serious threats then we can look at taking action to save them from extinction, such as reintroducing animals or using techniques like artificial insemination to increase diversity in wild populations.”