Most Captive-Born Predators Die If Released

January 23, 2008

Most large, captive-bred carnivores die if returned to their natural habitat, a new study has found.

The odds of animals such as tigers and wolves surviving freedom are only 33 percent, according to a team of researchers from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

The study, which reviewed 45 carnivore reintroductions worldwide, questioned the role of zoos and captive-breeding programs in conservation efforts.

"Animals in captivity do not usually have the natural behaviors needed for success in the wild," said lead author and animal behavior researcher Kristen Jule.

"Their lack of hunting skills and lack of fear towards humans are major disadvantages," she said.

"We have suspected for some time that captive-born animals fared less well than wild animals. But here it is finally quantified, and the extent of the problem is critical," she said.

The study team looked at survival rates for 17 species of reintroduced mammals, including tigers, wolves, lynx, cheetahs, brown bears, and otters.

More than half of the fatalities were attributed to human causes, such as vehicle collisions and deliberate shootings.

Captive-born carnivores were also more likely to starve to death than their wild-bred counterparts, as well as become more susceptible to viruses and diseases, the study showed.

Especially Vulnerable

The African hunting dog, or the African wild dog, was among the reintroduced species found to be especially vulnerable to humans, Jule said.

"A lot of them are shot, poisoned, deliberately trapped, and killed," she said.

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