Breeding programmes

 

Question: what is a European Endangered Species Programme (EEP)?

Forty years ago animals were still imported from their home countries to Europe, some of them illegally caught in the wild, but today most of the zoo animals are born under human care and protection – in zoos or animal parks, for instance. If zoos want to have a healthy animal population capable of survival for future times, they must maintain as high a genetic variety as possible.

Avoiding inbreeding

A population is a group of animals of the same species. If the population is too small, inbreeding occurs when the animals reproduce, that is, closely related animals produce young ones with each other. In the long run this is unhealthy for the group, as inbreeding encourages the birth of sick and weak animals. It is therefore important for the zoos to exchange their animals, thus bringing new, unrelated animals into an existent group. For this reason zoos work together internationally and exchange data on their inventory of animals. These data are collected in studbooks. If an animal in question belongs to a particularly endangered species, a breeding programme can be worked out for this species. This programme aims at a long-term preservation of the species.

Today there are national and international breeding programmes for almost 300 of the animal species living in European zoos. The most important of these breeding programmes is the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP).

All zoos that are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) can, and should, take part in EEP programmes. A studbook is kept for every animal in the care of an EEP, where all the important data on every individual animal of this species is entered. There is the date of birth, place of birth, details of the parents, siblings and further family relationships. The person who keeps the studbook is also responsible for coordinating the preservation breeding programme of this species, and is known as the Species Coordinator.

From all of the zoos that are engaged in this EEP, he or she collects all the data on the animal species in question. On the basis of this collection of data he issues breeding recommendations once a year. This means that he recommends to the zoos, which individual animals should be brought together in order to have young ones. The further related the animals are, the better their chance of having young ones together.

Question: what influence does an EEP have on the animals at Wilhelma?

Example: great Indian rhinoceros

The great Indian rhinoceroses at Wilhelma are also taking part in an EEP. When the rhinoceros boy Sahib was born at Wilhelma in 2004, Wilhelma sent all the important information about Sahib, e.g. sex, date of birth, parents, further family relationships and so on to the Species Coordinator at Basel Zoo in Switzerland. Basel Zoo is in charge of the EEP for the great Indian rhinoceros. With the help of his data banks, the coordinator checks which great Indian rhinoceros in the European zoos would be a genetically good match for Sahib. He comes to the conclusion that Sahib should best be taken to Madrid Zoo, Spain.

Question: what does an EEP mean for you as a zoo visitor?

Example: the great Indian rhinoceroses

Have you become fond of a young Wilhelma animal that is being cared for under an EEP programme? Then you ought to get used to the fact that you must take leave of one another one day. In Sahib's case this happened in September 2006.It was time for Sahib to leave Wilhelma, for his mother Sani was pregnant again. In the wild she would drive her two-and-a-half year-old son away herself. Apart from this the pregnant Sani will need the whole enclosure for herself and her new child.
The Species Coordinator for greater Indian rhinoceroses finds out in Basel that Sahib should first go to the zoo in Madrid. Here he should initially be brought together with other single young males, founding a family later.

The animal transport

Sahib's journey from Stuttgart to Madrid must be prepared very carefully. Now the zoologists and animal keepers have got a lot of work on their hands: paper work AND getting Sahib used to his transport box. The animal keeper from Spain, David Fernández, who will be looking after Sahib later, arrives in Stuttgart, so that he can get to know the idiosyncrasies and eating habits of his new protégé in Wilhelma for a few days. When Sahib is then taken to Madrid on a special lorry, his "old" keeper from Wilhelma, Volker Kruschenski, will be there to greet him. He will make things easier in the first few days for Sahib to get settled into his new surroundings.

At the moment there are 51 animal species being cared for under European Endangered Species Programmes at Wilhelma. Some examples:

    Gorilla
    Sumatran tiger
    Bonobo
    Greater Indian rhinoceros
    Okapi
    Bearded vulture
    Grevy zebra
    Babirusa
    Reticulated giraffe
    Great hornbill
    Congo peafowl

You can see on the signs by the enclosures if an animal is taking part in an EEP programme – the signs show the EEP symbol.