The Role of Captive Breeding

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Giraffes in the West Midland Safari Park. Source: By Robek – Own work, CC BY 2.5,

OpenStax Biology 2e

Zoos have sought to play a role in conservation efforts both through captive breeding programs and education. The transformation of the missions of zoos from collection and exhibition facilities to organizations that are dedicated to conservation is ongoing and gaining strength. In general, it has been recognized that, except in some specific targeted cases, captive breeding programs for endangered species are inefficient and often prone to failure when the species are reintroduced to the wild. However, captive breeding programs have yielded some success stories, such as the American condor reintroduction to the Grand Canyon and the reestablishment of the Whooping Crane along the Midwest flyway.

Unfortunately, zoo facilities are far too limited to contemplate captive breeding programs for the numbers of species that are now at risk. Education is another potential positive impact of zoos on conservation efforts, particularly given the global trend to urbanization and the consequent reduction in contacts between people and wildlife. A number of studies have been performed to look at the effectiveness of zoos on people’s attitudes and actions regarding conservation; at present, the results tend to be mixed.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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