On the morning of May 1, the Biodôme’s live-collections team was pleasantly surprised to discover the birth of three lynx kittens. Realistically, it was more of a half-surprise, since mating had been observed more than once at the end of February, and the female lynx’s increasingly round belly had been noted early in the month of April. This birth is a wonderful event for the Biodôme, but it’s also good news for lynx populations under human care.
Species survival programs
The Biodôme, along with a handful of other institutions in Canada, is part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). This North American organization accredits zoos that demonstrate the highest standards of quality in terms of animal care, animal-population management and educational, research and conservation programs.
As an institution accredited by the AZA, the Biodôme participates in the Species Survival Plan Programs coordinated by that body. Thus, the Canada lynx, just like 20 or so other species at the Biodôme, is part of one of those programs. These conservation projects are aimed at keeping the populations under human care demographically and genetically healthy. As these populations are often reduced to a few dozen or a few hundred individuals spread out over a number of zoos and conservation centers, they may be subject to such problems as genetic drift or inbreeding depression. Management of the demographics and genetics of these populations, based on scientific data, makes it possible to maintain a certain genetic diversity or to curb its loss. This is a critical point, because it’s the genetic diversity of populations that provides them with the ability to adapt to changes in their environment.
What is the purpose of ex-situ populations?
Beyond their perpetuation, it could legitimately be asked what purpose do these ex-situ populations serve. There’s no single answer to that question, and it obviously depends on the status of populations in their natural environment. Indeed, the contribution of an ex-situ population will not be the same for a species extinct in the wild and for a species that is endangered exclusively on a local scale. However, in both these cases, and in many others, the existence of an ex-situ population acts as an insurance policy. This may allow us to support populations facing certain demographic challenges (e.g., the wood turtle); to maintain, in the short term, populations of an animal species confronted with an imminent threat before reintroducing them into their environment (e.g., the Panamanian golden frog); or else to reintroduce a species that has disappeared locally (e.g., the striped chorus frog) or in nature generally. In all these cases, a key element in the success of this type of species conservation and recovery program is having a good knowledge of the species’ biology and an expertise in its care and reproduction. That expertise, often possessed by zoos or conservation centers, is a major contributing factor to conservation.
Read more about the Biodôme's conservation projects.
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