Captive breeding of animals is widely used to manage endangered species, frequently with the ambition of future reintroduction into the wild. Because this conservation measure is very expensive, we need to optimize decisions, such as when to capture wild animals or release captive-bred individuals into the wild. It is unlikely that one particular strategy will always work best; instead, we expect the best decision to depend on the number of individuals in the wild and in captivity. We constructed a first-order Markov-chain population model for two populations, one captive and one wild, and we used stochastic dynamic programming to identify optimal state-dependent strategies. The model recommends unique sequences of optimal management actions over several years. A robust rule of thumb for species that can increase faster in captivity than in the wild is to capture the entire wild population whenever the wild population is below a threshold size of 20 females. This rule applies even if the wild population is growing and under a broad range of different parameter values. Once a captive population is established, it should be maintained as a safety net and animals should be released only if the captive population is close to its carrying capacity. We illustrate the utility of this model by applying it to the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx). The threshold for capturing the entire Arabian oryx population in the wild is 36 females, and captive-bred individuals should not be released before the captive facilities are at least 85% full.
- Captive breeding
- Endangered species
- Optimal management strategies
- Stochastic dynamic programing
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation