conservation breeding Sulawesi Keepers
People breed animals for a variety of reasons:
  • quantity – to sell them, feed them to other animals/humans or otherwise use them
  • quality – selective breeding to enhance/suppress a certain trait
  • for no particular reason – e.g. fish in your tank breed, so you raise the offspring
  • to help preserve the species – conservation breeding

What is conservation breeding?

Conservation breeding is the breeding of animals in captivity (ex situ, outside their natural range, in an aquarium) with the aim of maintaining a sustainable population that acts as a backup/insurance for endangered wild populations or a potential source for future reintroduction. To achieve this goal, it is important to preserve genetic diversity and keep animals in conditions as close as possible to their natural environment. If we ignored these factors, we could end up with animals that could never adapt to natural conditions or that would represent domesticated strains quite different from their wild ancestors.

Many aquarists support conservation breeding by deliberately selecting endangered species for their aquariums and actively participating in conservation breeding programs. These programs can vary greatly in form.

What is expected of you when you join?

The strict model is known, for example, from zoos and their EEP programs (formerly the European Endangered Species Programme, now the EAZA Ex situ Programme; EAZA is the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria). Such program is managed by a coordinator who makes recommendations for breeding and transfers. All animals are strictly kept within the program and are shared among participants free of charge.

  • proven model with simple rules
  • very efficient
  • allows the best control over the population
  • difficult to organize
  • requires a high motivation to prioritize species conservation over all other possible benefits
  • requires good communication (risk of personal disagreements, misunderstandings, reluctance, etc.)
  • some breeders do not want to be bound by the rules, but their contribution to the preservation of the species can be considerable
  • difficulties in housing excess animals within the program (only in case of very successful reproduction)
  • some species are very difficult to keep/breed and losses are high, so the cost of agenda and managing new entrants to the program is often much higher than the benefit (this is the scenario typical for Sulawesi shrimps) – in other words, it is not possible to provide animals for free to someone just because they want to participate and are willing to obey the rules

On the other hand, the relaxed model represents mere monitoring. Collection of information on the state of the population in aquariums is based on data provided by independent breeders. We have tried this – see Sulawesi Keepers Global Survey – and the data obtained is insufficient for any effort to conserve endangered species.

  • resource- and time-saving organization
  • no one feels bound by the rules
  • no one is responsible, we rely on "all breeders"
  • no one has control over the actual state
  • the risk of species loss in aquariums is great

The relaxed model does not actually lead to species conservation. The strict model is… well, strict. It is hardly applicable in many scenarios, especially for Sulawesi shrimp, which are very difficult to keep, their maintenance costs are high (so successful breeders sell animals to refinance their own efforts), they are available commercially, and long-term success is what we are looking for (i.e. many people only want to "try" these species, but they fail in the long run). We don't want to give endangered species to people who volunteer to keep and breed them – the chances of them losing the animals are too high. On the other hand, successful breeders would also strongly benefit from cooperation with others – they can share experiences and animals. We need these successful breeders and we don't want to prevent them from continuing to do what they do best – breeding endangered species and spreading them to other aquarists.

So we are looking for a model somewhere between these two extremes…

As the organizational effort increases, so does the effectiveness of the program? The demands on individual breeders are also increasing – to the point where administration begins to prevail over animal breeding itself. We want aquarists to breed animals in the first place.

Personal involvement and commitment

In order to be able to truly talk about conservation breeding, the cooperation and personal commitment of the participating breeders is necessary. To varying degrees:

  • BRONZE: My animals are part of one common insurance population. This means that I will not sell a certain number (e.g. 50 shrimps, 20 fish) and keep it permanently as a reserve. I regularly inform about the status.
  • SILVER: In addition to holding a reserve, I myself help to build an insurance population, i.e. I will provide a certain number of animals on request (and I myself am entitled to receive animals if I lose my own population).
  • GOLD: I freely dispose of animals above the set reserve; in case of sale, I will support the protection of the natural environment of this endangered species by transferring part of the profit (certain %) to support in situ projects.

What do you think of these models? Would you consider participating? What do you think about the strict model, let's call it PLATINUM? Sulawesi fish and invertebrates really need some insurance in our aquariums – and we are ready to start organizing conservation breeding programs. We would like to know your opinion.

Markéta Rejlková