California's San Diego Zoo and the New Orleans-based Audubon Nature Institute today announced a plan to establish a 1,000-acre breeding center for endangered species, including scimitar-horned oryx, whooping cranes, Masai giraffes and more than a dozen other species.
The partnership between the two zoos, dubbed the Alliance for Sustainable Wildlife, will take over facilities run by the Audubon Nature Center in Algiers, La. Construction on the enclosures for the endangered species will start later this year and breeding is expected to follow in 2014.
Douglas G. Myers, president of San Diego Zoo Global (the zoo's parent organization), said the partnership "will be a model for collaborative efforts in the future." Audubon president and chief executive Ron Forman called the planned breeding center a "one-of-a-kind resource for zoos and aquariums to rebuild animal collections that are in danger of disappearing."
Although many captive-breeding programs are designed to eventually release animals back into the wild, the first priority of this partnership is to stabilize populations for display in zoos, which means additional animals will not need to be captured from the wild. "This unique, innovative partnership is a big deal for us,'' Steve Feldman, vice president of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "We have a common mission to make sure these animals don't go extinct. It's really going to make a new and meaningful difference in our work.'' Feldman said the work to create sustainable populations for some of these species — and to restore their degraded habitat if animals are released back into the wild — could take decades, if not an entire century.
Other species expected to be bred at the facility include lions, flamingos, secretary birds, pink-backed pelicans, okapis, slender-horned gazelles, common elands and bongo antelopes. The full list has not been finalized. The animals will come from both zoos as well as other AZA-accredited facilities.
The amount of space to be dedicated for the center will enhance breeding efforts, the two zoos said. In most cases zoos breed endangered species by bringing together individual males and females. Having larger herds or groups will facilitate breeding, especially in species that breed according to social structure, experts told The New York Times. Larger groups will also help young animals grow up to be well-adjusted. The antelope and bird species especially will benefit from the larger habitat. "The idea is, since we have all this space, let the antelope be antelope," Robert Wiese, chief life sciences officer at San Diego Global, told the Associated Press. "Have the herds acting like herds."
Audubon has invested $30 million in the Algiers facility since it acquired the land from the United States Coast Guard in 1990. It has been breeding some endangered species at the site since 1996. The two zoos expect to invest another $10 million to build new pens and paddocks for the facility's new residents.
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