Effects of Captivity and Implications for Ex-situ Conservation: with special reference to red panda (Ailurus fulgens)
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This PhD thesis aims to improve the ex situ conservation of threatened and endangered species by investigating the effects of captivity and improving the methodology of current conservation techniques. The use of reintroduction as a tool for the purpose of conserving species is becoming increasingly popular. Since many wild populations are declining, captive-bred stock are frequently used to restore or supplement wild populations. Evidence suggests that captive-bred animals are less successful than their wild counterparts, but this has not been recently reviewed and there is limited research into investigating what aspects of captivity may be affecting success. Here, I conduct a review of carnivore reintroductions for projects carried out post 1990, which shows that captive-born animals are less likely to survive a release into the wild than their translocated wild-caught counterparts. A case study species, the endangered red panda (Ailurus fulgens), is used to investigate how a species involved in captive breeding for conservation responds to life in captivity. Results from analyses of lifetime reproductive success (and related variables) showed that both adaptation to captivity and inbreeding depression are occurring in the global captive red panda population. An investigation into behavioural adaptation to captivity was less revealing, although only generations three to seven from the wild were observed. The effects of captive environment and husbandry regime were also investigated and revealed that the size of the useable area and amount of human contact were among the factors influencing the behaviours of red pandas. How these findings contribute to a greater understanding of effects of captivity is discussed. The use of selection criteria based on temperament was also investigated in order to improve the likelihood of survivorship upon release into the wild. This method needs to be tested in practice, but based on the selection criteria used, there was evidence that unsuitability for release was positively predicted by generation time in captivity. Implications for the future use of captive red pandas in efforts to conserve the species in the wild are discussed, as well as how these findings can be utilised for other species involved in conservation efforts.
PhD in Psychology