Diversity in the zoo
'Diversity' in the title does not refer to 'the number of animals' but to genetic diversity. Researcher Oliehoek concluded that zoos and breeders of pets can improve the genetic diversity of their species.
In the long run, genetic diversity plays a role in the survival of species. A crucial aspect of genetic diversity lies in minimising kinship. Breeding programmes are capable of minimising kinship by selective breeding. In order to breed selectively, breeders often use genealogical trees and use animals from different ‘branches’ of the tree. This becomes difficult when genealogical trees are incomplete. Marking animals as unrelated is often unjust. Thus, a method of genetic management was developed by mapping kinship. For zoos it’s important to know the founders of the population. The founders are the animals that have been caught in the wild and that have created the population.
Five zoo populations were used to study the genetic diversity of the population in relation to the founders of that population. In all cases it appeared that a large part of the genetic diversity had been lost. The good news, however, is that is indeed possible to increase the genetic diversity, by using selective breeding. Animals with a low kinship should obtain more offspring. Breeders should therefore focus of kinship, rather than on inbreeding. Oliehoek advises the method of ‘optimal contributions’, a method that calculates the ideal number of animals, based on kinship. By using this method, it is possible to minimise the loss of genetic diversity in the population.