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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 46:161-173 (2021)  -  DOI:

Captive breeding and the conservation of the threatened houbara bustards

P. M. Dolman1,*, R. J. Burnside1, K. M. Scotland2, N. J. Collar3

1School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
2Emirates Bird Breeding Centre for Conservation, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
3BirdLife International, Cambridge CB2 3QZ, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Translocation of captive-bred individuals to reinforce wild populations may be an important conservation approach for some species, but can be detrimental when employed to boost exploited wild populations, particularly where repeated long-term reinforcement aims to compensate for repeated unregulated offtake. We review evidence that captive breeding alters multiple physiological, life-history and temperamental traits through founder effects, genetic drift and unintended adaption to captivity; degrades learnt behaviours; and compromises biogeography, population structure and viability through introgression. We highlight these risks for the globally threatened African houbara Chlamydotis undulata and Asian houbara C. macqueenii, 2 bustard species hunted throughout much of their ranges and now subject to multiple large-scale captive-breeding programmes and translocations. In eastern Morocco, annual releases of captive-bred African houbara are 2‒3 times higher than original wild numbers, but no investigation of their potentially deleterious effects has, to our knowledge, been published, although most wild populations may now have been replaced by captive-bred domestic stock, which are reportedly not self-sustaining. Despite multiple decades of reinforcement, we are not aware of any analysis of the contribution of captive breeding to African houbara population dynamics, or of the genomic consequences. Asian houbara release programmes may also be promoting rather than preventing declines, and need to contextualise themselves through rigorous analyses of wild population numbers, demographic rates and threats, maintenance of phylogeographic concordance of released with supplemented populations, profiling of traits crucial to survival and the measurement and modelling of the impacts of reinforcement on physiological and behavioural fitness of wild populations.

KEY WORDS: Chlamydotis undulata · Chlamydotis macqueenii · Translocation · Population reinforcement · Sustainable hunting · Supplementation · Game management · Restocking

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Cite this article as: Dolman PM, Burnside RJ, Scotland KM, Collar NJ (2021) Captive breeding and the conservation of the threatened houbara bustards. Endang Species Res 46:161-173.

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