Translocation, myths and reality

Published on: Last updated:

Temps de lecture : 3 minutes  

Translocating or moving animals for conservation is not a panacea. This is what Irene Pérez from Arizona State University has concluded in a recent study. What is translocation, how does it work and what are its benefit, are some of the questions Irene answers for us.

Using a couple of examples can you explain the concept of relocation? When is it used?

Translocations are the movement of living organism from one area to another in hopes of recovering a threatened species. Some examples are the translocation of the California condor in the US, the Iberian lynx in Spain, the Arabian oryx in Oman or the Golden lion tamarin in Brazil. In France, translocations are also a frequent practice; examples are the reintroduction of the European Black Vulture or the Griffon Vulture. These are just a few examples of the thousands of projects that are developed worldwide.

What are the benefits of such a methods? How does it compare to other conservation methods? Is it a common solution? (how many times has it been used, in which particular circumstances: country, species, threat…).

Translocations are an important tool for reducing the risk of extinction of threatened species. Translocations are adequate tools when species or population are at risk because of small population size. In those situations, a translocation project might be needed to increase the number of individuals in the threatened population. However, if the species or population is declining as a result of direct or indirect human impacts (for example, habitat loss or harvesting), solving or compensating such impacts by in situ conservation actions (for example, creating protected areas) could be a better alternative. In the study I developed with colleagues from Arizona State University and several Spanish institutions we listed 174 translocations projects developed for terrestrial vertebrates just in Spain!

You have reviewed a vast number of relocation publications worldwide. Your conclusion was that relocation was not a panacea, can you explain?

Translocations area incresingly used as key tools for species conservation but, as I said before, translocations are an adequate tool to solve specific conservation situations. However, in our study we found that most of the translocations projects developed in Spain and worldwide are unjustificable from a conservation perspective or inadequately designed to guarantee success or preclude negative consequences. Frequenly translocations projects are developed with aesthetic or sociopolitical motivations or as “simple solutions” to complex conservation problems. We thought that the problem was that a clear guidelines for determining when certain translocations should be undertaking was lacking. To remedy this issue, we endorse a system for evaluating the suitability of proposed translocation projects. Using this system allows not only the evaluation of the necessity for a given project, but also the technical and logistical design, as well as associated risks of the project.

Does this mean relocation is not a solution for wildlife conservation?

No, the role of translocation for wildlife conservation is straightforward. But translocations are not the solution to all the threatened species or populations. The system we designed can help in answering if a species should be translocated and, if so, how.

What do you recommend for relocation projects to be successful?

There are several factors that need to be considered to increase the options of the project to succeed. For example, the release site selection, the number and composition of individuals to be release, and the methodology to be used, are important aspect that should be taken into account. However, prior to these questions is important to assess if the translocations project is necessary (Is the species or population under threat?, Have the threatening factors been removed or controlled? Are translocations the best tool to mitigate conservation conflicts?) and evaluate the possible risk involved with the project (Are risk for the target species, other species, or the ecosystem acceptable?, Are the possible effects of the translocation acceptable to local people?).

Zoos often have a role in in-situ and ex-situ conservation, some willing to relocate animals in the wild. Are zoos, or other conservation institutes key to the success of relocation projects?

Absolutely! I think our system for evaluating the suitability of translocations projects is of special interest for institutions involved in in-situ and ex-situ conservation programs like zoos. They are the ones that may face the difficult decision of whether a species should be translocated for its conservation. The application of this system by managers would reduce the number of inappropriate translocation projects and would enable a more efficient use of the scarce resources available for wildlife conservation.

Interview Roxanne Crossley

Media Query: