Belfast Zoo
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Breeding programmes

Good zoos are more than simply a place to see animals. We play a vital role in the conservation of species at risk and take part in more than 61 breeding programmes.

These programmes help zoos to collaboratively manage species to provide self-sustaining and genetically healthy ‘safety net’ populations. In fact, without the active work of zoos some species would no longer exist, such as the Socorro dove.

How do zoos breed animals?

There’s more to breeding programmes than just putting a male and female together. Breeding is carefully managed and computer databases help record details of each individual animal (including its sex, date of birth and full ancestry). This allows a studbook co-ordinator to pair suitable animals for breeding, based on genetics, and to recommend transfer of animals between zoos. We do not buy animals and we work co-operatively towards the common goals of protecting wildlife.

Managing zoo populations

European Endangered Species Programme (EEP)
This is the most intensive type of population management programme. It applies to species living in zoos which are registered with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). Belfast Zoo is a member of more than 40 EEPs.

European Studbook (ESB)
ESBs are less intensive than EEPs. They are managed by a studbook keeper who collects data about a particular species and records information about births, deaths and transfers between EAZA-registered zoos. This helps to establish whether animals are thriving in EAZA zoos or need more management to make sure their population remains healthy in the long-term, perhaps through an EEP.

Belfast Zoo is a member of more than 25 ESBs. Our staff are responsible for co-ordinating the ESB for the François langur, marbled polecat and black and white Colobus monkey.

Taxon Advisory Group (TAG)
Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs) have been set up for all animal groups living in EAZA-registered zoos. Each TAG focuses on a specific group of animals, for example, penguins, bears or antelopes.

These groups are made up of staff from EAZA-registered zoos and aquaria with specialist knowledge of and a keen interest in a particular species.

 TAGs are responsible for:

  • developing regional collection plans which decide which species zoos want to house in the future
  • encouraging and co-ordinating current conservation projects
  • projects exchanging information about how best to take care of animals
  • ordering research into areas of husbandry which have not yet been explored.

Global programme

Some of our animals are so rare they are looked after by a global breeding programme. Belfast Zoo is home to 35 species which are managed by an international studbook.

We are also a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA). BIAZA has set up breeding programmes within the British Isles and more than 20 species in the zoo are maintained as part of these programmes.

Collection plan

We have developed a collection plan to make sure our resources are put to the best possible use.

The plan:

  • analyses the animals we keep and plan to keep in the future
  • reviews the enclosures we have available for these species
  • looks at our history, expertise and future plans
  • considers the status of our species in the wild
  • uses International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria to assess how endangered each species is
  • assigns species to categories using Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) criteria.

Our zoo planners use these categories, as well as assessments from TAGs and their knowledge of local, European and international breeding programmes, to decide which species are most relevant to the zoo and our resources.