European zoos keep approximately 6500 animal species in their collections. About 400 species, of which 250 are listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List, are closely monitored and managed within European Endangered Species Breeding Programmes (EEPs) and European Studbooks (ESBs) under auspices of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). Generally, these populations are managed to minimise inbreeding and to retain as much genetic diversity of the wild population as possible.
To be able to successfully manage these breeding programmes all zoos collect as much data as possible from all individual animals in their collection, to ultimate allow the construction a reliable pedigree. Such pedigree information is usually collated and maintained in a studbook by a dedicated studbook keeper. RZSA staff members, for example, maintain the European studbooks for the Mexican military macaw, the Eurasian black vulture and Fischer's Turaco, and collect the pedigree records for Okapi, Bonobo, Congo peafowl and Golden-headed lion tamarins in a global
Our biologists also coordinate the European breeding programmes for all of these species. Based on detailed demographic and genetic analyses of the data contained in the studbooks, the programme coordinator provides transfer and breeding recommendations for individuals animals, ultimately aimed at minimizing the loss of genetic diversity and ensuring a self-sustaining breeding population. To this end, breeding programmes rely on Mean Kinship values, a measure of genetic importance based on an individual's overall relatedness within the population.
Applied conservation research
Ever more, the management of small populations relies heavily on conservation genetics, using molecular tools to study the genetic aspects of intensively managed animal populations in captivity and in the wild. By using molecular techniques we aim to contribute to improving the sustainable management of captive breeding and wildlife populations.
For more information see our ZOO SCIENCE website