Understanding the challenges of conservation
"Excellence is not the result of an isolated impulse, but of a succession of small elements that come together."
Vincent van Gogh
How to apply conservation?
When it comes to wildlife conservation, there are several methods that can be applied depending on the objective: to protect a rare species or an endangered natural habitat.
The protection of a species aims to conserve its genetic diversity through in situ conservation programs (actions carried out within the animal's habitat, in a protected area) or ex situ (actions carried out outside the animal's natural environment, in a conservatory farm). The ex situ approach avoids anthropogenic degradation of the natural environment, but may encounter the problem of loss of genetic variability due to the risk of inbreeding. By definition, the protection of natural habitats takes place in situ, on the scale of a nature reserve or regional, national or transnational nature park. The aim of this approach is to conserve the overall biodiversity of a natural environment.
A global approach to conservation
The comprehensive conservation approach is defined by IUCN as "the integrated conservation of a species both within (in situ) and outside (ex situ) its natural range, and under all management conditions, involving all responsible parties and all available resources from the outset of any species conservation planning initiative".
The most appropriate method for maintaining biodiversity is in situ conservation. Not only does it ensure the survival of natural populations of one or more species, it also preserves the ecosystem in which they thrive.
"Although some quantitative data are published in scientific journals, other equally valuable information exists in less accessible internal reports or as unpublished data. The knowledge, experiences and perspectives of the many stakeholders who interact with the species and its habitat, including those who may be involved in the management of ex situ populations of the species, are other essential sources of information. To promote successful conservation planning, all this information needs to be identified." (UICN - CPSG 2020)
What is ex situ conservation?
The 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines ex situ conservation as :
"the conservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural surroundings".
This approach to conservation was born out of the realization that threats to the diversity of life, including habitat loss, climate change, excessive resource use and the introduction of invasive species, can be difficult to control, with the result that a growing number of species are condemned to extinction if measures are not taken outside conventional in situ preservation approaches (conservation of species and their habitats in the natural environment).
Depending on the species' conservation status, ex situ conservation objectives may be set for the short, medium or long term, and include a variety of techniques: conservation breeding, population reinforcement or reintroduction, gene banking or applied conservation research.
Toutes les stratégies de conservation des espèces ne nécessitent pas une composante ex situ. Les menaces primaires telles que la perte d’habitat ou la surexploitation conduisant à de petites populations isolées, qui à leur tour deviennent très sensibles aux menaces stochastiques supplémentaires peuvent conduire à une boucle de rétroaction du déclin de la population et de l’extinction éventuelle. C’est dans de tels cas que la gestion ex situ peut être d’une valeur particulière pour la conservation. (IUCN/SSC, 2014)
"Species with small and fragmented wild populations may need a multi-faceted conservation approach to ensure their survival. Ex situ management can provide valuable options in your conservation toolbox." (UICN 2022)
What about ex situ conservation actions for chameleons?
Madagascar is home to almost 40% of all chameleon species. On this territory, 80% of endemic threatened reptile species (106) currently have no ex situ conservation component. What's more, 41 threatened Malagasy chameleon species are not yet conserved in zoos.
To optimize management and conservation efforts in zoos, it is strongly recommended to refocus on threatened and micro-endemic species and review their captive populations accordingly. Ex situ approaches in the country have already been launched for amphibians and reptiles.
However, populations conserved between different institutions abroad should be seen as an essential contribution to better prepare for catastrophic events potentially affecting local facilities or natural populations (Ziegler et al. 2022).
"Captive breeding programs can serve as a research platform for zoologists, veterinarians and others to conduct research designed to improve understanding of the species' biology." (WWF, 2007)
IUCN/SSC 2014. Guidelines on the Use of Ex Situ Management for Species Conservation. Version 2.0. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN Species Survival Commission.
UICN 2020. CPSG Species Conservation Planning Principles & Steps,Ver. 1.0. Groupe de spécialistes de la planification de la conservation de l’UICN CSE : Apple Valley, MN.
UICN 2022. Comment la planification de la conservation peut vous aider à atteindre vos objectifs de conservation des espèces. Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG) http://cpsg.org/content/get-know-cpsg-french
Construire un avenir pour la faune et la flore. La Stratégie Mondiale de Conservation des Zoos et Aquariums. WAZA
WWF 2007. Policy Statement on Captive Breeding
Ziegler et al. 2022. Threatened Malagasy amphibians and reptiles in zoos – a call for enhanced implementation of th IUCN’s One Plan Approach. Zool. Garten N.F. 90: 21-69.