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The Role of Reintroduction: Ensuring the Continued Existence of Species in the Wild
Li Quan, Founding Director, Save China’s Tigers (US, UK, HK, Aus, & China)
Dr. Steven Monfort, Director, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
The drivers of human-wildlife conflict often place enormous pressures on entire populations of flagship species. These threats can be so severe that, once dangers have been addressed, existing populations need to be supplemented with animals raised in captivity. Both the Smithsonian National Zoo and Save China’s Tigers (SCT) are pursuing innovative means of species preservation through reintroduction.
Dr. Monfort, director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, outlined the ways in which zoos can leverage their resources to reintroduce species on the brink of extinction into the wild. He holds that maintaining maximum biodiversity and genetic diversity in the world’s ecosystems is critical to maximizing America’s economic and moral well-being. Success of natural and assisted breeding programs for eventual reintroduction has been observed first with black-footed ferrets in the late 1980s, and more recently with Dr. Monfort’s cheetah breeding facility over the past two years. This detailed and scientific method of species conservation will be increasingly important for the future, as the number of endangered species has increased steadily over the past ten years. However, the current lack of knowledge of husbandry and diet requirements, coupled with uncertainty of future adaptability, makes species reintroduction programs a high-risk, high-cost proposition.
Li Quan, founding director of SCT, stressed the conservation value of the South China tigers, which are on the brink of extinction. Though these tigers were once the original ancestors to all species of tiger, there are fewer than ten of these tigers left in the wild. Furthermore, the tigers are in danger of becoming the fourth species of tiger to become extinct since 1900. Li’s work for the past nine years as director of SCT has been to preserve the species by “re-wilding” the tigers – first introducing them in South Africa, which offers ideal conditions for the tigers to relearn to hunt, and eventually releasing them back into South China. In 2008, the organization had observed their greatest milestone in a pair of tiger cubs born in South Africa in the wild, after four years of training the tigers' parents to adapt to the environment. SCT is now caring for fourteen tigers, eleven of which were born in South Africa.
» Save China's Tigers: Overview
» Africa Geographic: The Operation Rhino Story
» Smithsonian National Zoo: Animal Translocation
» The GEF: Save Our Species boosts wild tiger conservation
» The GEF: Global Environment Facility to support $50 million in grants to save the tiger