Captive breeding programs good or no?

Tara - posted on 01/15/2011 ( 9 moms have responded )




D espite three cub deaths, the Calgary Zoo will likely breed its Siberian tigers again.

Ten-year-old Katja gave birth to a female cub Monday, but abandoned her after 36 hours, possibly having detected the health problems that led to organ failure and the death of the infant Thursday night.

Katja also gave birth to two cubs in September, but both died due to mishandling by their inexperienced mother.

Despite the deaths, Ron Tilson, of the Minnesota Zoo and director of the Species Survival Program that overseas all the captive tigers in North America, said he has no reservations about recommending Katja breed with her nine-year-old male partner Baikal again.

"I'm going to tell them to give her a rest, and when she comes back into (heat), it's just fine to try to breed them again," said Tilson, regarded as one of the world's foremost tiger experts and whose approval is needed before the tiger breeding goes ahead.

"All of the things are in favour of her (successfully breeding) . . . it's just an issue of getting her to understand that motherhood starts when the cub's born and you don't walk away from it."

Tilson said Katja should come back into heat in about a month.

January to March is typically when Siberian, or Amur, tigers mate and cubs are born just over 100 days later.

"I would suspect there would be some cubs come spring," said Tilson.

Katja is showing signs she is better prepared to be a mother, said Jake Veasey, director of animal care, conservation and research at the Calgary Zoo.

He said during the first 36 hours after the cub was born, the mother was attentive and gentle and possibly only abandoned her young after detecting a health issue, which he said is normal behaviour in the wild.

"It looks like Katja had done everything she should for that cub," said Veasey.

"This is more bad luck than anything fundamentally wrong with (Katja)," said Veasey.

"It's quite unusual to have a single tiger cub, it's quite rare, she may have been pre-programmed to abandon that cub to bring herself back into season to produce a bigger litter."

Zookeepers hadn't noticed that Katja was pregnant when she gave birth to two cubs in September.

One died shortly after birth and the other died three days later. Both had been injured by the first-time mother.

This time, the cub had difficulty metabolizing food, which led to organ failure and cardiac arrest, despite the efforts of two veterinarians to resuscitate the newborn.

"We've examined the cub, there's no evidence of any trauma, there's every evidence that she took proper care of that cub," said Veasey.

About 30 per cent of newborn tigers die within the first 30 days after birth, both in captivity and in the wild.

The Species Survival Plan has been operating since 1987, and in that time, the program has overseen more than 450 tiger births in North American zoos.

There are 137 Amur tigers in captivity among 262 tigers kept in 206 zoos across North America.

It's believed there are less than 300 Siberian tigers living in the far east of Russia along the Amur River. The numbers have been declining in the past two decades due to poaching.

The stated purpose of the conservation program is to preserve genetic diversity in the captive population to be able to reintroduce tigers into the wild if necessary. But critics say there is no reason to breed captive tigers except to keep zoos stocked.

"I don't think there's any need to breed these animals in captivity, and I don't think the Calgary Zoo should be doing it," said Rob Laidlaw, executive director of the animal rights organization Zoocheck Canada.

"There's no real conservation value to it despite what the zoo is saying.

"It's creating a population of tigers for zoos because there's nobody in the world putting tigers back into the wild."

Tilson said he is part of a project that will begin reintroducing South China Tigers later this year and he said Russia is just starting to become interested in repopulating Amur tigers.

"I call it a genetic insurance policy," said Tilson. "Everyone who's prudent should have one and you hope you never have to cash it in."

So what do you think, should the world continue with captive breeding programs for animals that are threatened in their natural environment? Even if there are no re-introduction programs in place?
I'm on the fence, part of me says that it's important to try to keep species alive that might have a chance at re-population down the road one day... but on the other hand, if the breeding programs are only to keep zoos stocked with new animals, I don't agree with it.


Laura - posted on 01/16/2011




"Are they going to keep on trying if they have a failure next time around?"

I've known women that have had 3 or more miscarriages, should they quit trying to have a baby? It said 30% of cubs die in captivity and in the wild, will a wild tiger stop mating if they continue to lose cubs...probably not.

Sharon - posted on 01/16/2011




No offense, but what is wrong with keeping the zoos stocked with captive bred animals?

Is it really a better idea to take a wild born animal off the plains of africa to put in a zoo?

I also believe in keeping genetic diversity going. Its absolutely necessary for the day that there are NO tigers left in the wild.

sorry animal keepers can already see the day when man will have covered every inch of this earth - barring a couple of parks - with his creation & spawn. the only place you will ever see the majesty of an eagle is in a captive aerie.


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As long as the animals are treated humanely, if reintroduction programs were in place, and if this can potentially prevent a species from becoming extinct, i dont see any issue. If the zoos are going to do it just for a variety of animals, then its not right.

Iris - posted on 01/16/2011




I don't think anything is wrong with breeding zoo animals in general. In THIS case though I do feel different, reason being they have bred her twice without luck and the result being that three cubs died. Are they going to keep on trying if they have a failure next time around? And why not just be honest about it instead of beating around the bush?

Isobel - posted on 01/16/2011




I also far prefer keeping zoos stocked with captive bred animals than capturing more from the wild.

Laura - posted on 01/16/2011




I agree with Sharon, what is wrong with it? We have a membership to our zoo and when the weather is nice we go at least once a week. My 4 year old son knew more animals that I did at the age of 2. He loves it and learns so much about the animals. He wants to be a Zoo Keeper or a Vet (and has since he could voice it). He would not be as interested in them if he didn't get to see them face to face. Who cares if they are not getting released into the wild at least they are producing and thriving. What's wrong with mating them? Mating is a natural part of life weather in captivity or the wild it is their natural instinct to mate. JMO I know some animal activist think Zoo's are horrible but the one's I've been to are very well kept and they are great teaching tools. I really hope some day that my son will grow up to work at an animal refuge or something like that.

Iris - posted on 01/15/2011




It is wrong and I think they are only doing it for their benefit, the Zoo. Veasey needs to make their potentials more clear. How are they going to re-introduce a cub bred in captivity, to the wild? And his statement of re-introducing the "tigers" (not specifically this cub) to the wild "if necessary" sound more like something to say to keep people from frowning upon their actions.

They have two tigers and them being endangered species, I highly doubt that they would be breeding to let them into the wild. The lifespan of these tigers in the wild is 25 years, time is running down, they want to make sure they get more without having to pay an arm and a leg. I also think that any other zoo that is successful in breeding these tigers will sell the to other zoo's around the world. More money that way.

That's just my take on this.

Kate CP - posted on 01/15/2011




Ditto. If they actually are re-introducing the species to the wild then go for it. But if it's just to keep zoos stocked up on big cats then forget it.

Lacye - posted on 01/15/2011




If it's to keep the species alive, then I think they are doing the right thing. I have to agree with you though, if it's only because they want to have new animals in the zoo, they should give up now because to me that is border line animal cruelty.

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