Captive breeding and the conservation of the threatened houbara bustards

Paul Dolman, John Burnside, Keith Scotland, Nigel Collar

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Translocation of captive-bred individuals to reinforce wild populations may be an important conservation approach for some species, but can be detrimental when employed to boost exploited wild populations, particularly where repeated long-term reinforcement aims to compensate for repeated unregulated offtake. We review evidence that captive breeding alters multiple physiological, life-history and temperamental traits through founder effects, genetic drift and unintended adaption to captivity; degrades learnt behaviours; and compromises biogeography, population structure and viability through introgression. We highlight these risks for the globally threatened African houbara Chlamydotis undulata and Asian houbara C. macqueenii, 2 bustard species hunted throughout much of their ranges and now subject to multiple large-scale captive-breeding programmes and translocations. In eastern Morocco, annual releases of captive-bred African houbara are 2–3 times higher than original wild numbers, but no investigation of their potentially deleterious effects has, to our knowledge, been published, although most wild populations may now have been replaced by captive-bred domestic stock, which are reportedly not self-sustaining. Despite multiple decades of reinforcement, we are not aware of any analysis of the contribution of captive breeding to African houbara population dynamics, or of the genomic consequences. Asian houbara release programmes may also be promoting rather than preventing declines, and need to contextualise themselves through rigorous analyses of wild population numbers, demographic rates and threats, maintenance of phylogeographic concordance of released with supplemented populations, profiling of traits crucial to survival and the measurement and modelling of the impacts of reinforcement on physiological and behavioural fitness of wild populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-173
Number of pages13
JournalEndangered Species Research
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2021


  • Chlamydotis macqueenii
  • Chlamydotis undulata
  • Game management
  • Population reinforcement
  • Restocking
  • Supplementation
  • Sustainable hunting
  • Translocation

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