Wageningen University & Research researcher Mirte Bosse talked to King Willem-Alexander about the significance of scientific research in breeding programmes for endangered species. The discussion took place by invitation of Blijdorp Zoo (Diergaarde Blijdorp) during the king’s visit on Monday 23 November.
Willem-Alexander spoke with studbook keepers, animal carers and other members of the Dutch Association of Zoos (Nederlandse Vereniging van Dierentuinen). After visiting the red pandas and Asian elephants, the king took his time to talk to all involved about the impact of the corona crisis on research and breeding programmes.
Among other issues, the international initiatives that have been launched to prevent long-term impact on animal welfare and nature conservation were topics of discussion. The main conclusion was that the continuity of research and of breeding programmes is a priority and that researchers and zoos will persist in their joint mission for nature conservation.
Blijdorp Zoo coordinates five breeding programmes, including that of the Asian elephant. Researchers of Wageningen University & Research have started a research trajectory in collaboration with the zoo. In this programme, DNA research is used to create a better insight into the genetic status of elephants in the breeding programme and in the wild. Unfortunately, the corona crisis has caused a drop in the financial means zoos have available for research and upkeep, which affects breeding programmes and research initiatives. Travel restrictions also limit the possibilities to transport animals for the purpose of breeding.
To maintain a genetically healthy zoo population, zoos, nature organisations and researchers collaborate on a European scale within the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), in specially designed programmes that focus on endangered species. There are currently 418 such breeding programmes aiming to manage these populations scientifically. Ensuring a maximum in genetic diversity is the key concern.