Friday 4 July 2014

Response to Awesome Ocean Benefits of Species Survival


The Benefits of Species Survival Plans in Zoos and Aquariums

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Recently, it has been confirmed that Kalia (a killer whale at SeaWorld) is pregnant with her first calf. Unfortunately, animal activists are speculating that SeaWorld is just adding to their “inventory” of killer whales. However, it is very important to understand why there are breeding programs in most zoos and aquariums.
Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (including SeaWorld), participate in a cooperative program called “Species Survival Plan” (SSP). he mission of this program, created by the AZA, is to manage the populations of specific species, which are or will be threatened and endangered.
Since the time the SSP has been introduced into zoological facilities, numerous benefits have come from breeding species in human settings. For instance, through observation, we have learned about mating habits, gestation periods and baby development in the womb, and when baby animals are born, nursing habits and how long they will remain with their mothers for. Gorilla keepers at the Toronto Zoo have learned baby gorillas will stay attached to their mothers and nurse from them until 4 years of age. The collected information can then be shared with facilities participating in the SSP, and can then be used as an educational tool to the public.
One of the biggest achievements that came out of the SSP was restoring the endangered Tarahumara Frog species. By breeding of the endangered frogs in human care, zoos were able to keep the species alive and then released them into the wild. Through more trial and error and research, the same can be done on larger animal species, like the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger.
Based on the current success of the SSP, it is clear that it is not a breeding program used to restock animals for entertainment, but to truly better our research and conservation efforts of animal species. Kalia, the pregnant whale at SeaWorld, is helping to enrich our understanding of calf development, and how we can restore the killer whale species should they become endangered. The SSP truly is a conservational tool to preserving the threatened species of the world!

Once again the information provided on Seaworld's own websites contradicts the statements above.

1.  Seaworld don't have an SSP for orca's and they keep their own stud book for the bottlenose dolphins.
''AZA studbooks are primarily used as a tool for monitoring and managing captive populations and can be either regional or international. Studbook information is often used to make breeding decisions that ensure genetic variation.
Endangered species have the highest priority for studbook development; however, non-endangered species are also eligible for studbooks. As of 1994, Sea World keeps two endangered species studbooks, one for the white-winged wood duck (Cairina scutulata), and one for the red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogeys). SeaWorld also keeps the studbook for the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), a non-endangered species.''

2. SSP's as you say above is for threatened and endangered species and at present killer whales are not in either of those categories. The Southern Residents are now in there, but Seaworld don't have a Southern Resident as all those they captured are dead. 

3. As with Marius the giraffe at Copenhagen zoo, the genetics are monitored and sadly resulted in him being killed. Seaworld manage their own studbook and because THEY ARE breeding to restock shows they have created numerous hybrid orcas with no conservation value what so ever, as they have no equivalents in the wild, so unlike the Tarahumara Frog they could never be used to restock anything should the species become critically endangered. 

4. Kalia herself is a hybrid orca her mother Katina is Icelandic and her father Winston was a Southern Resident, the two groups in the wild would never have met and would certainly not have cross bred. As you can see here 11 of Seaworld's orcas are hybrid, they can never be released back into the open ocean incase they bred and contaminated the wild genepool. As an AZA member Seaworld would know that, but as the breeding programme has nothing to do with conservation of the species it doesn't matter as they are purely for show and will die at the bottom of a tank. This sort of cross breeding would not be allowed if someone else was managing the strudbook as in the case of Marius.

5. You are right the SSP is a conservational tool but for endangered species and being AZA accredited doesn't really have anything to do with orca breeding and it is wrong to lead people to believe that it is.

This is a copy of  the accreditation standards and related policies for AZA membership and you will see from reading through them none of the standards cover breeding of hybrid killer whales.

I am all for people who have a passion for something, but not when the information misleads others. There 
are still Icelandic orcas in the tanks and AZA have Reintroduction Programs and if Seaworld were breeding orca for a 'conservational' reason as you state, then maybe that is the place they should be looking,


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