An international puzzle
Until the 1970s, it was standard practice to take animals from the wild. As more and more animals became endangered, this needed to stop. Zoos in Europe, and sometimes beyond, have since been exchanging animals among themselves in the interest of the (genetic) health of the overall population. This exchange always takes place on a closed exchange. Animals are not sold or bought.
Only through cooperation can zoos ensure healthy backup populations on a larger scale. By doing so, they make an important contribution to maintaining stable populations in the wild. This is very important because more and more animal species in the wild are threatened with extinction. Often at the hands of humans.
The EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria), works to facilitate cooperation within the zoo and aquarium community towards the goals of education, research and conservation. Within this organisation, more than 400 breeding programmes are coordinated at European level. EAZA's breeding programmes are also called EEPs, or ex-situ Programmes. In other words, they involve nature conservation outside the animal's natural habitat. Nature conservation projects that take place in the original habitat are called in-situ programmes.
A group of experts determine whether a breeding programme is needed for a species, or not. They look at a number of different issues, such as: Is the species endangered? Can the species be kept in a zoo? And is the species suitable as an educational ambassador?
Breeding programmes in ARTIS
Former ARTIS director Sunier (1927-1953) was one of the first zoo directors in the world to start a breeding programme in 1931. He wanted to prevent the extinction of the European bison (Bison bonasus), because there were only 54 left in the 1920s. These lived in a few zoos. Today, thanks to the breeding programme, thousands of European bison are again walking around in nature reserves all over Europe.
There are currently 90 animal species living in ARTIS that are part of a European breeding programme. Five of these are coordinated by ARTIS: those of the Java mousedeer, the African penguin, the bullhead shark, the Diana monkey and the crested mangabey. The crested mangabey does not live in ARTIS, but in GaiaZOO, but the breeding programme is coordinated by an ARTIS staff member.
Release into the wild (?)
Sometimes animals can also be released into the wild. ARTIS, for example, has released garlic toads, Polynesian tree snails and griffon vultures. Unfortunately, in many cases, the animals' natural habitat is not safe. Time is needed to tackle poaching or to restore a habitat, for example. A goal of breeding programmes can also be to educate people about the animals and their situation in the wild. This makes the animal an ambassador of the species, or of an entire habitat. The release of animals is done in collaboration with conservation organisations and (local) governments.
Besides breeding programmes, ARTIS also supports various nature conservation programmes worldwide to safeguard habitats as much as possible.