Good zoos and aquariums do much more than simply display animals to visitors, there is a lot of science that goes on behind the scenes. As a community, they play a vital role in conservation, breeding species at risk of extinction in the wild – but there is more to it than just putting a male and female together.
Breeding must be carefully managed to control populations under zoo/aquarium care and to prevent inbreeding. The aim is to ensure genetic diversity which is achieved by developing a studbook.
A studbook is created for species identified as requiring management or for those at risk and contribute to a breeding programme. They record the details of each individual animal on the programme, e.g. its sex, date of birth, and full ancestry. A species co-ordinator, who is in charge of keeping the records up to date, makes recommendations for the pairing of animals for breeding. They ask the zoos that hold them to transfer the animals or look at alternative methods for reproduction such as artificial insemination (AI). Within the zoological member community - British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA), Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and WAZA World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) - no money changes hands, we are all in it to save wildlife.
The Deep have successfully bred a number of threatened and endangered species including the Golden mantella and Banggai cardinal fish. In 2015, The Deep became the first UK aquarium to successfully breed and rear zebra sharks. By working with Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, they have generated two new bloodlines within the EAZA studbook.
The Deep manages the EAZA studbook for the Endangered largetooth sawfish and Critically Endangered green sawfish. Little is known about their reproductive biology and the studbook is focussing on developing a bank of genetic data for all sawfish species held within European aquariums. With this information, further research can be undertaken into developing a successful breeding programme for the incredibly large and difficult to transport species. Alternative methods for assisted reproduction and their success amongst elasmobranches are under investigation.
The Deep also oversees the Species Monitoring Programmes for honeycomb whiptail ray and the Epaulette shark and also contributes to the breeding for zebra sharks, blue-spotted ribbontail ray and blue spot ray. During 2016, The Deep also welcomed the arrival of two Gentoo penguins, the first chicks to be born since their arrival in 2014.