Why Captive Breeding?

Male Ferruginous Hawk feeding young

Male Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) feeding young at the Centre

People sometimes wonder why captive propagation programs are important. The single most important reason for the captive propagation of wildlife is that it acts as an insurance policy against extinction. No species that has a stable captive breeding population can ever truly become extinct.

There are numerous examples of the successes of captive breeding projects. Two well known examples are those set by the captive propagation of American Buffalo, and the California Condor.

Both of these species were on the edge of extinction in the wild, but were saved by the combination of captive breeding and release programs, in addition to intensive habitat conservation efforts.

Imagine the North American skies darkened by their sheer numbers and the roar of the thunderous beats from the wings of billions of Passenger pigeons. Unique to the North American continent, they had the largest single population number of any bird species on Earth. It was thought they could never go extinct.

Such a wondrous spectacle would actually be possible again today; if only someone had thought to properly breed this species in captivity, before their wild population dropped below the point of no return.

Instead, the last confirmed wild bird is thought to have been shot in 1900. The last captive birds were divided in three groups around the turn of the 20th century, some of which were photographed alive. Martha, thought to be the last passenger pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo.

If only the the Passenger pigeon Ectopistes migratorius or the Dodo Raphus cucullatus had been captive bred. Then they, as well as a long and sobering list of so many species that are never again to be experienced except from photographs or from drawings of from written accounts of their former existence, would still be with us today. Simply because someone had the wisdom to breed them in captivity!

Loss of genetic diversity is another ominous issue facing many endangered species today. Captive breeding programs can assist with this problem by injecting healthy new genes into small and isolated genetic pools. Increasingly, many fragmented wildlife populations will require human intervention in order to maintain viable and genetically diverse populations in the future.

Another benefit of captive breeding is the opportunity to observe and research animal breeding behaviour. Many species are very difficult to observe in the wild, and being able to fully understand their reproductive biology can be vital in assisting conservation efforts in unimaginable ways.

Finally, one of the biggest benefits of captive breeding is public education. Being able to actually see and experience being in the presence of live animals in zoos and similar reputable facilities inspires people to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the world in which we live.

If we as human beings cannot appreciate the non-human life we share our would with, and learn to live in harmony with it, then this will be to our own severe detriment. Then, quite likely, we will then find that it is our turn to find ourselves on the endangered species list! A very short list it would then be for sure!

Captive breeding provides healthy populations within zoological institutions and greatly reduces the need to harvest animals from the wild. The genetic diversity of these captive populations can in turn greatly assist genetically depleted populations in the wild.

In fact the majority of animals that are used in public wildlife educational presentations, including the Centre’s animals that are a part of our own educational demonstrations, are animals that have been born in captivity and then raised around humans. This allows them to cope without the level of stress that purely wild animals would suffer when experiencing large crowds.


If you have found an injured bird of prey (hawk, falcon, owl, etc.), contact the Centre and our experienced staff can assist in determining what steps should be taken to ensure the bird receives the best possible care.



Telephone : +1 343 341 2730

Email : staff@conservationcentre.org