Endangered species: Cull to be kind?

When breeding programs are successful, endangered species are saved from extinction. But if too many animals are born, zoos have to take drastic steps

A A A

A debate was sparked last week when stories emerged that Edinburgh Zoo was planning to cull three of its red river hog piglets because they were "surplus to requirement". While the zoo has since stressed that it has no current plans to euthanise the animals and that the story was inaccurately reported, it did cull two other piglets last August.

While we are familiar with culling animals in the wild, the idea that this also goes on in zoos has proved much more controversial, it seeming at odds with the premise of breeding programmes. So why do zoos ever make the unusual decision of killing their animals?

The European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) is a type of population management for rarer species of animals that are found in zoos. One person is assigned a species and is in charge of producing a plan for the future management of it and co-ordinating its breeding through a process called "recommendation".

Recommendations are made each year on which animals should breed or not breed, and which individual animals should go from one zoo to another or on breeding loans. When faced with more animals, the EEP can recommend that the zoo cull the surplus, as happened last year.

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Zoo explains why animals are allowed to breed even if they don't want any more: "While the red river hog is not currently classed as endangered, it is conservation-dependent due to excessive hunting in its natural habitat in West Central Africa. The category status of any animal, however, always has the potential to worsen in the future. Therefore, all zoos are advised that their animals should remain able to breed, as restricting natural breeding activity or administering contraception can prove detrimental to health and future reproduction. Of course, this often leads to new introductions to the zoo population."

As money can be scarce, rehousing is not always an option. "As a registered charity, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has to remain mindful of the resources it has available," the zoo says. "When we are unable to accommodate new additions to our facilities, rehoming is always our top priority, but there are various restrictions involved that make it easier said than done. Animals within the EEP zoo structure must be rehomed within it, or similar bodies within the developed world, to maintain control over their location and welfare. Many facilities within the EEP structure share a similar range of species and, therefore, are not in a position to accommodate more of the same."

However, animal charities have questioned zoo culls and the reasoning behind them. Libby Anderson, a director at animal protection charity OneKind, has said: "Each animal is an individual and I don't think they can possibly justify killing hogs simply because they are deemed surplus to the requirements of a breeding programme."

Population management of animals remains a complex and sensitive subject, but, happily for the three piglets, they are safe for the time being.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?