Why breed in Captivity

Why breed rare waterfowl in captivity?

Captive breeding programmes for wild waterfowl have been in existence for many centuries and vast numbers of different species have been reared very successfully in captivity. In fact the overall success of captive breeding programmes for wild waterfowl have been greater than for any other animal group.

Today waterfowl collections form an intrinsic part of the displays in many zoos, wildlife parks and private collection, with such displays always resulting in a major attraction for the public. When coupled with the fact that rare species of waterfowl adapt well to captivity the involvement of such groups has positively assisted rare waterfowl recovery programmes; particularly when this support is combined with a major captive breeding component in the recovery plan for rare species of waterfowl.

Over the years very considerable management expertise has been accumulated and captive management and avicultural techniques are well established for many species of wild waterfowl. Yet little information has been documented regarding the best practices and procedures needed to successfully keep and breed rare species of wild waterfowl in captivity.

The introduction of captive reared wild waterfowl into the wild in order establish new populations or to boost wild population levels has also been around for a very long time. Breeding wild waterfowl for hunting purposes has also been an established procedure for many centuries.

One of the earliest examples of a recovery programme for waterfowl was that of the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), which, in the 14th Century, was close to extinction in its native Britain, and it was only a major captive breeding programme which saved it. Today the mute swan is spread from one end of the UK to the other (T.Howard 2002).

A few centuries later on of the best examples of breeding wild ducks in captivity to save a species from extinction is that of the North American Wood Duck (Aix sponsa); also commonly referred to in modern times as the Carolina Wood Duck.

Back in the early 1900’s, when the word ‘conservation’ had not yet been invented, a project commenced to save the, rapidly declining Carolina population – from potential extinction.
In North America excessive hunting, destruction of habitat and out-of-season hunting by fishermen who desired the birds feathers for trout flies, has reduced the Carolina population to the verge of extinction. In 1910 birds were imported from Europe, a captive breeding programme commenced, as did a massive nesting box erection programme, and over the next twenty years the Carolina population steadily increased. This was assisted by a ban on hunting between 1918 and 1941.

Today the highly successful nest box programme is still going; the main difference with modern Carolina nest boxes is that they are commercially manufactured in plastic – complete with nails to nail to a post or tree. Present estimates of population size for the Carolina Wood Duck is between 3.5 and 4 million! Approximately 1 million are legally hunted every year.

To date no endangered species of waterfowl has ever been saved without a major captive breeding programme, for example, the Hawaiian Goose (Branta sandvicensis), the Laysan Teal (Anas laysanensis), the Aleutian Canada Goose (Branta canadensis leucoparia), and the Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus c. buccinator), would most likely all be extinct without a major captive breeding programme forming part of the overall recovery plan.

In simple terms the captive propagation of Brown Teal could mean the survival of Brown Teal for many years to come, for it is far better to have 2,000 Brown Teal in captivity than no Brown Teal at all! This is exactly the same philosophy that was so apparent in saving the Mute Swan, Hawaiian Goose, Laysan Teal, North American Wood Duck, Aleutian Canada Goose and the Trumpeter Swan from certain and premature extinction.