Captive-Breeding

Group Co-Chairs: Ben Tapley and Kevin Johnson

ASG Secretariat Lead Contact: Sally Wren (swren[at]amphibians.org)

Vision

All amphibian species assessed by AArk Conservation Needs Assessments or other nationally-recognized organizations that are recommended as priorities for conservation breeding, are established in genetically and demographically viable and financially stable ex situ programs. Where possible, programs should be within the indigenous range, with program outlines which identify short, medium and long term goals for the program and an exit strategy.

Goals

  • Identify species that are both priorities for ex situ conservation action and are appropriate candidates for such action.
  • Leverage the resources required to ensure that all species identified for urgent rescue can be brought into effectively managed facilities.
  • Ensure that effective program planning, including methods of evaluating the success or failure of the program and its goals, and an exit strategy is developed for each new conservation program, before the program is actually implemented.
  • Ensure that resources are used as transparently, efficiently and responsibly as possible.
  • Maintain genetically and demographically viable populations in captivity while threats are either better understood or mitigated in the wild.
  • Provide fit, healthy animals for release that are capable of establishing self-sustaining populations in the wild once threats have been correctly identified and removed or sufficiently reduced (released animals should not provide a disease risk to other individuals / species at the release site) .
  • All breeding programs will endeavour to the best of their ability to comply with all national and international requirements on activities involving specimens in captive breeding colonies.
  • Provide high quality training / capacity building and long term support in regions where captive breeding programs are required but there is not currently sufficient expertise.
  • Foster / contribute to partnerships and collaborations that facilitate positive conservation outcomes, funding and political support.
  • Foster scientific research on captive colonies to generate information relevant for amphibian conservation.
  • The effective management of disease in captive populations.
  • Provide best practice recommendations to the community for screening animals prior to release in order to mitigate unintentional transfer of disease or disease strains.
  • A community that can respond to new demands and challenges as they emerge.
  • Captive amphibians on public display are used to effectively convey conservation messages to the visiting public, in order to develop a feeling of responsibility for amphibian conservation.
  • An Amphibian Ark staff member in every amphibian-rich country of the world, reviewing and updating the conservation needs assessments, organising and delivering training, lobbying for habitat protection, raising funds and managing and supervising species programs.
  • Share and communicate results and network with the amphibian conservation community.

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Challenges

Insufficient funding / resources

Although there are now more resources being invested in amphibian conservation than ever before, relative to other taxa amphibians remain grossly underfunded. Funding for captive breeding comes from a diversity of sources but is often piecemeal, localised and short-term. Captive breeding programs require long term investment and take time to establish, this often results in project fatigue. There is also an issue with sourcing specialist equipment in some range states which has the potential to undermine programs once they have been established.

Insufficient technical expertise and a lack of species champions

Amphibian captive husbandry expertise is sometimes lacking in the countries which support the greatest amphibian biodiversity, this is compounded by the fact that usually, the countries with the highest amphibian diversity are also the countries where the greatest proportion of amphibians are threatened. Although attempts have been made to address this balance the lack of technical expertise remains a problem. It can be difficult to train the appropriate people, there is high staff turnover and once training has occurred there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that the knowledge gained through training workshops is put into practice and disseminated to others. This last issue is due, at least in part, to a lack of species champions to develop and formally manage programs for target species. Some captive husbandry practitioners also have difficulty accessing scientific literature on amphibian husbandry. The expertise underpinning many programs is based on short training experience and some programs may lack the longer term experience required to adapt to the problems in husbandry.

Identifying suitable candidate species that require captive breeding programs

Not all amphibians are suitable candidates for captive breeding programs. The threats for some species are not currently reversible, or may not ever be reversible. Deciding which species should be established in captivity can be problematic and needs to take into account the geo-political context and likelihood that the captive breeding program will succeed.

Failing to act and acting too late

Captive breeding programs are often seen as a measure of last resort and the establishment of a captive breeding program is often postponed until numbers in the wild are dangerously low. This can greatly reduce the chances of establishing a viable captive breeding program due to the issues inherent with small population sizes and the time potentially required to develop species-specific husbandry techniques. There is a choice to be made between prioritising small populations or larger, rapidly declining populations; in the one case extinction may be imminent, but programs may fail, while in the other case there is still time for in situ only intervention.

Lack of field data on species biology and reliance on non–evidence based husbandry practices

Data on life history and environmental parameters are lacking for many species and life stages. This paucity of information has the potential to undermine programs for species which are established where little to nothing is known about the species biology, ecology and habitat / microhabitat requirements. There is a prevalence of anecdote-based husbandry over evidence-based approaches. There is a need to engage with field biologists, the scientific literature and the application of a methodical approach to changing husbandry. Engagement with industry / technical expertise may facilitate the design of better captive facilities to provide appropriate conditions.

New threats and limited capacity

The captive breeding community must be able to respond to new threats as they emerge, in particular emerging infectious disease. There is already limited captive breeding capacity and more species in need of conservation breeding programs than there are programs established. As new threats emerge and more species become threatened there is a risk that the captive breeding community will be unable to respond. Working with field biologists to conduct health surveillance of wild populations is crucial.

Ex situ management can produce maladapted amphibians

Some amphibians fail to thrive and breed in captivity under the conditions currently provided to them. The husbandry requirements of amphibians are more complex than previously thought and for many species that require captive breeding programs, the husbandry requirements are unknown. There is a danger of not producing any captive bred offspring or producing maladapted amphibians in captive breeding programs which may not be suitable for reintroduction, especially if captive conditions differ greatly from field conditions.

Risk of novel pathogens in ex situ facilities

Conservation breeding facilities should be located within the indigenous range of a species to minimise the risk of individuals in such programs becoming exposed to novel pathogens, or bringing pathogens into existing captive populations. Doing so may also simplify the provision of some environmental and climatic variables that may be important for successful husbandry. Capacity may be lacking in some regions, and as a result facilities may need to be located outside of the range state and / or distributional range of the target species and there is a risk that such populations of amphibians will become exposed to novel pathogens. This is especially an issue if hosting organisations maintain cosmopolitan animal collections. Many pathogens of concern (e.g. ranaviruses) cannot currently be effectively screened for and this has the potential to undermine programs and put sympatric species at release sites at risk.

National, regional or local conservation authorities are / become unsupportive

Conservation priorities depend on the scale of operation. A regionally threatened species may not be a national or global priority, and vice versa. This can result in different priorities within organisations operating at different scales. Equally, the level of support provided will depend on the political motivations of the authorities concerned. State support is likely to improve with appropriate engagement with in-country parties.

Lack of sufficient numbers or genetic diversity for founding populations

Genetic analysis is expensive and the resources and expertise are not available to determine the genetic viability of many populations both in the field and in captivity that would benefit from it. Currently, some studbooks are not well implemented in existing ex situ programs.

Lack of post release monitoring

Inadequate post-release monitoring does not allow captive breeding practitioners to assess the success of their programs. Poor survival and / or breeding of captive bred animals following their release to the wild needs to be identified as quickly as possible so that husbandry changes aimed at improving success can be identified and implemented.

Conflict of interests

Whilst conservation research has an important role in developing new husbandry techniques, disease mitigation and for developing reintroduction strategies, there is a risk that producing animals for research becomes the priority to the detriment of the captive population. The practical benefits of using captive bred offspring for research rather than release need to be critically assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Current Priority Actions

Actions To Respond To Major Constraints To Effective ConservationMid-term Priorities (3–10 years)Short-term Targets (1–3 years)
Actions From ACAP
Operating in response to recommendations from local biologists, national governments, and the various ACAP research branches, rapid-response teams would travel to sites predicted to suffer catastrophic losses to implement pre-emptive collections of animals that will form the basis of captive programs. A prototype of such a program has been used effectively to rescue the frog fauna of a site in Panama (see www.saveafrog.org)i. Assess countries for their conservation needs

ii. Reassess all countries for their conservation needs every 4-5 years (Ongoing)
i. Ensure that conservation needs assessments for countries with high amphibian biodiversity are completed (Partially completed)

ii. Collate as much species data as possible while the animals are still in the wild

iii. Develop and regularly update emergency response plans for various situations (to help avoid the issue of poor planning)

iv. Collect environmental / habitat data during emergency collection trips to start informing husbandry and equipment kits held by AArk for deployment with each rapid response team
Central to the long-term success of a captive program is the establishment of captive operations as close to the indigenous range as practically possiblei. Establish captive programs as close to the indigenous of a species as practically possible

ii. Facilities established outside of range states only when species extinctions are imminent before range country programs can be effectively achieved

iii. Set up external panel to ensure the risks posed by establishing programs outside of range states are assessed

iv. Sufficient funding and resources secured for each ex situ programs
Identify the areas in which there is the most need for amphibian husbandry capacity building (Partially completed)
Local biologists or citizens must quickly be identified, hired, and trained and trained in amphibian biology and husbandryi. Ongoing training and support to be provided for early career husbandry practitioners

ii. All staff working in facilities are trained in amphibian biology and husbandry topics and have the knowledge base to allow them manipulate captive parameters to achieve program success
Update list of people with conservation husbandry experience (Underway, but needs more resources)
A steady program of internships in established amphibian facilities in other countries will be critical to maintaining intellectual and practical capacity at range-country facilitiesi. Identify programs where internships would be beneficial

ii. Internships underway; supporting staff in newly established facilities
Identify list of institutions willing to host interns. Obtain funding for internship programs
Close contact and communication among all facilities in the network must be maintained by a global supervisory staffi. An Amphibian Ark staff member in every amphibian-rich country of the world, reviewing and updating the conservation needs assessments, organising and delivering training, lobbying for habitat protection, raising funds, managing and supervising species programs

ii. Establish an information exchange network that is available for all to access (e.g. FB etc not accessible in China, and AArk’s online Ex Situ Program Progress resource)
i. Global supervisory staff established - Amphibian Ark

ii. Update list of facilities and practitioners
Range-country programs will operate in native languages, and will be aimed to ensure that operational protocols are matched to local conditions, culture, and infrastructureAll guidance documents are available in the first language of each country with an operational amphibian captive breeding programIdentify people willing to translate guidance documents
Ensure captive colonies are maintained in at least two different facilities to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic loss or threat of loss from disease
Provide the capacity and facilities for research and implementation of cryobanking of gametes of threatened species, thereby serving as an additional safeguard for species and specific genetic lineagesViable cell cultures / tissue samples for all threatened amphibians held in captivity are accessioned into the frozen arkFrozen ark protocols disseminated to all facilities housing amphibians
The captive colonies will produce the animals needed to meet long-term research needs and to provide animals for the ultimate goal of reintroduction to natural habitatsi. Regular publications each on captive husbandry / amphibian conservation, available in many different languages

ii. Ensure sufficient resources are available to produce the required numbers of animals for both reintroduction and research purposes, and to widely disseminate all relevant captive breeding program and research findings in a timely fashion
Research needs identified in advance for each program species
New Actions
Identify species that are both priorities for ex situ conservation action and are appropriate candidates for such action to ensure that limited funding is allocated to projects that will generate tangible conservation outputsi. Ensure that recommendations for ex situ programs arising from national conservation needs assessments are disseminated appropriately and are readily available to all stakeholders

ii. Encourage low priority species to be phased out of collections and replaced with higher priority species (where appropriate)
Continue to assess and prioritize species on a national level for their ex situ conservation actions. (Underway)
Protocols for dealing with new threats are developed so that conservation responses can be timelyCommittee meets annually and recommendations disseminated to all stakeholdersEstablish advisory committee that can update captive breeding community on how to respond to new threats
Evaluate the likely success of captive husbandry for the species involved – are the knowledge and skill sets, as well as the resources, available to keep animals alive and breeding? Update program implementation tool
Improve the success of future programs, particularly focusing on the need to keep animals fit and healthy, produce healthy offspring beyond F1, and to understand and control breeding triggersIdentify major medical, nutrition, husbandry concerns/gaps for amphibian programs and prioritize research efforts
Work with species where we have the greatest chance of success and thus ensure that our limited funding is allocated to projects that will generate tangible conservation outputsi. Work with ex situ program managers to ensure that appropriate recommendations arising from conservation needs assessments are followed

ii. Encourage low priority species to be phased out of collections and replaced with species identified for urgent rescue or research (where appropriate)

iii. Evaluate genetic management of populations to make sure enough resources are available to match desired outcomes (i.e. is there capacity to manage 5 different “populations” from separate stream systems, or only enough space to manage one long-term?)
Update program implementation tool
Cater for changes in management strategies, conservation needs and technological advances with development and specification of ex situ facilitiesi. Develop reference library hosted on AArk website (Underway)

ii. Identify list of potential trouble-shooters who would be able to advise husbandry practitioners on how to implement changes in management strategies (Underway)
Training programs and internships must continuously update to ensure that the most recent advances in husbandry are communicated (e.g. UVB provision, nutrition), feeding in from the action to generate evidence-based husbandry protocolsContent of training courses updated annually to reflect advances in husbandry and knowledge of disease and population managementi. Update course content

ii. Ensure all institutions providing internships are employing current best practice protocols and husbandry standards
Ensure that biosecurity measures are included as an important component of any captive programEnsure that biosecurity aspects of training programs are reviewed annually and updated as requiredi. Update manual for control of diseases in amphibian assurance colonies and reintroduction programs on AArk website

ii. Specific aspects of biosecurity outlined in the program implementation tool

iii. Ensure that program managers and staff understand the importance of biosecurity and how to implement relevant protocols

iv. Ensure that new information / protocols are widely distributed as they become available
Identify country champions/coordinators to closely monitor progress and deal with barriers and challenge for the program (or programs within the country)Develop a system to ensure that there is a champion / coordinator in every country hosting one or more amphibian captive breeding programs and that vacancies are filled in a timely fashionChampions identified and promoted on AArk website and newsletters
Ensure that funding plans must be in place to secure the long term future of projects intended to safeguard both living and cryopreserved populations of a speciesPublicise Frog MatchMaker and the Ex Situ Programs Needing Support page through social networking on ASA, AArk and ASA / AArk partner / supporter pages
Put together a reference library (even if only titles/abstracts) around major amphibian husbandry themesReference library updated on a monthly basisFrogLog provides updates; Reference library hosted on AArk website (Underway and ongoing)
Develop an open access online 'journal' of amphibian husbandry which publishes tips, techniques, advances etc as well as short papers on husbandry. Freely and continually share information / experience with one another and encourage programs to publish, or at least write up informally, their experiencesGenerate and promote evidence-based husbandry protocols through the establishment of an online open access journal on amphibian husbandry
Maintain genetically and demographically viable populations in captivity while threats are mitigated in the wildi. Circulate / update amphibian population management guidelines

ii. Ensure captive breeding program managers understand how to properly manage the amphibian populations they are responsible for; provide support as required
Facilities which are having husbandry issues / failing to breed species are visited by captive husbandry specialists to offer support a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ and constructive feedbackEnsure that all facilities are aware of specialist panel and that they are able to contact the panel for advice and trouble shootingi. Identify panel of specialists and secure funding. (Underway - AArk’s AVOP program)

ii. Country champions liaise with panel via monthly / quarterly reports highlighting any issues and identifying areas where increased support / capacity building is needed
Captive programs have partnerships with relevant field biologistsEnsure that all captive programs are linked with field programs and information is shared freely between field biologists and husbandry practitionersApproach regional working groups to identify field biologists
Effective management of disease in captive populationsi. Ensure that all known diseases that pose a risk to amphibians have risk assessments and these are updated annually

ii. Ensure that the disease control manual is reviewed annually and updated as required
i. Approach veterinarians and wildlife epidemiologists to ensure that new methods / techniques are filtered down to husbandry practitioners

ii. Update manual for control of diseases in amphibian assurance colonies and reintroduction programs on AArk website

iii. Have a plan of action in place for diseases where there is no reliable screening and / or treatment, should there be an outbreak

iv. Develop and disseminate disease risk assessments for known amphibian diseases which have the potential to undermine captive breeding programs

ACAP related chapters

Chapter 7: Captive Programs (J.R. Mendelson III, R. Gagliardo, F. Andreone, K.R. Buley, L. Coloma, G. Garcia, R. Gibson, R. Lacy, M.W. Lau, J. Murphy, R. Pethiyagoda, K. Pelican, B.S. Pukazhenthi, G. Rabb, J. Raffaelli, B. Weissgold, D. Wildt and Xie Feng).

Appendix 1: Gamete Banking (B.S. Pukazhenthi, K. Pelican and D. Wildt).

Read the whole ACAP here.