Wednesday, 26 June 2013

More than life and death, part I: using measures of animal stress to monitor the success of reintroductions

As a plant ecologist, I find some of animal-specific issues in conservation translocations are particularly interesting and relevant to my current work writing a code and best practice guidance for undertaking conservation translocations in Scotland.  The implications of moving animals can affect their welfare and ultimately make or break a reintroduction (or other translocation) attempt.  In a paper I've recently read, David Jachowski and his co-authors (2013) look at elephant stress indicators (fecal glucocorticoid metabolites concentrations) in South Africa and demonstrate that an elevated physiological state, indicative of high stress, can take up to 25 years ameliorate. What was striking was the decrease in the coefficient of variation in this relationship which reduced by about half in a reintroduction that had taken place 24 years prior compared to one that had been undertaken the year before the study commenced. Effectively, this tells us that elephants might be subject to very high levels of stress immediately after release, whilst other individuals show levels of stress which are not so different to elephants that have not been moved.  Elephants are complex animals - behavioural, social and physiological cues can all contribute to whether an individual shows signs of stress, so it isn't surprising to see a big range of stress responses in a study such as this one which looks retrospectively at reintroductions in five separate locations.  The authors suggest that some causes of stress such as seasonal pressures from lack of food and higher temperatures, are out of the control of reserve managers, however human interaction, principally with tourists, can be reduced by providing refuge areas away from roads and developments and from which tourists are prevented from entering.

Given that elephants are such long-lived animals, we might expect that physical acclimatization will take a long time post-release. But what about other animals? A systematic review of animal reintroductions* by Lauren Harrington and her co-authors categorised the reported results according to measures that could be interpreted as welfare indicators, either directly or indirectly. The projects reviewed were mainly focused on mammals and birds (89% of 199 studies). Unsurprisingly, more than 70% reported survival rates, and reproduction was reported in 52%, dispersal in 42% home range establishment in 39% and population size in 36% of the projects reviewed. But to me, these measures give a very limited insight into the welfare implications of translocating animals. For example, Jachowski et al (2013) report that high stress in elephants causes incredibly aggressive behaviouir which can affect the survival of other species including humans. Harrington et al 's review revealed that only three studies (2%) incorporated physiological measures of stress similar to that used by Jachowski et al (2013). The review also showed that animal welfare during translocation was more than closely monitored than similar welfare indicators post-release (26% versus 14% respectively).

So when I'm recommending monitoring of animals post-release, what should this plant ecologist say? I'm very aware that it's easy to make demands on translocation practitioners from the comfort of my office but in reality, would stringent requirements to monitor stress indicators put people off undertaking conservation translocations? My current feeling is that all proposals for future animal translocations should incorporate plans to monitor stress indicators. The example of elephants killing people and other large animals (in one case >100 white rhinoceroses) may be an extreme one but effectively illustrates that just because translocated animals have survived, doesn't mean we can call the reintroduction a success.

* Although the authors refer to reintroductions in the title, the review actually encompasses various types of conservation translocation.

Harrington, L. A., Moehrenschlager, A., Gelling, M., Atkinson, R. P. D., Hughes, J., & Macdonald, D. W. (2013). Conflicting and Complementary Ethics of Animal Welfare Considerations in Reintroductions. Conservation Biology, n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/cobi.12021

Jachowski, D. S., Slotow, R., & Millspaugh, J. J. (2013). Delayed physiological acclimatization by African elephants following reintroduction. Animal Conservation, n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/acv.12031

Monday, 17 June 2013

Translocation digest - June 2013

Translocation projects:

Endangered beetle reintroduced in SW Mo.
Seattle Post Intelligencer
EL DORADO SPRINGS, Mo. (AP) — The Saint Louis Zoo and other conservation groups have been working to restore the population of an endangered beetle in southwest Missouri, and the effort appears successful so far.

In the News: Scarlet macaw reintroduced to parts of Mexico
ARKive (blog)
The first macaw reintroduction took place in April, with a second small flock scheduled for release at the end of June. After this, small groups of 10 to 12 birds at a time will be released until a quota of 60 to 70 for this year is met.

Mountain lion population could pose a threat to reintroduction of bighorns in ...
The Republic
TUCSON, Arizona — An already "robust" population of mountain lions in the Catalina Mountains appears to be increasing — and that could pose a threat to a planned reintroduction of bighorn sheep in the range this fall.

New swan chicks at Lincoln Park Zoo soon to go wild
Chicago Tribune
After about four months growing up with their protective parents, the six endangered chicks will be released into the wild as part of a trumpeter-swan reintroduction and recovery program the zoo has been active in for more than a decade, officials said ...

First translocated rhino gives birth in Manas National Park
Indian Express
Mainao, the first rhino that was translocated to the Manas National Park in western ... and conservation staff working towards bringing Manas back to shape.

4 of 8 California condors died from lead poisoning
Officials with the Peregrine Fund's condor reintroduction project say 72 condors currently fly in a range that stretches from Arizona's Grand Canyon to southern Utah's Zion National Park. There were just 22 condors when a program was started in 1996 to ...

Wild lynx to be brought back to British countryside
Senior biologists and cat specialists are this week due to apply for a license to reintroduce the cats, which can grow up to four feet in length, into an area of forest on the west coast of Scotland. Under the plans, which have been backed by officials ...

Can't send lions to gun country: International Union for Conservation of ...
Economic Times
Besides, the Supreme Court verdict on translocation states, "Re-introduction of Asiatic lion, needless to say, should be in accordance with the guidelines issued by IUCN and with the active participation of experts in the field of re-introduction of ...


Benito-Garzón, M., Ha-Duong, M., Frascaria-Lacoste, N. and Fernández-Manjarrés, J. (2013), Habitat Restoration and Climate Change: Dealing with Climate Variability, Incomplete Data, and Management Decisions with Tree Translocations. Restoration Ecology. doi: 10.1111/rec.12032

Hedrick, P. W. (2013), Conservation genetics and the persistence and translocation of small populations: bighorn sheep populations as examples. Animal Conservation. doi: 10.1111/acv.12064

Lawes, T. J., Anthony, R. G., Robinson, W. D., Forbes, J. T. and Lorton, G. A. (2013), Movements and settlement site selection of pygmy rabbits after experimental translocation. The Journal of Wildlife Management. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.572

McCleery, R., Oli, M. K., Hostetler, J. A., Karmacharya, B., Greene, D., Winchester, C., Gore, J., Sneckenberger, S., Castleberry, S. B. and Mengak, M. T. (2013), Are declines of an endangered mammal predation-driven, and can a captive-breeding and release program aid their recovery?. Journal of Zoology. doi: 10.1111/jzo.12046

Christensen, P. and McDonald, T. (2013), Reintroductions and controlling feral predators: Interview with Per Christensen. Ecological Management & Restoration, 14: 93–100. doi: 10.1111/emr.12044

Harris, S., Arnall, S., Byrne, M., Coates, D., Hayward, M., Martin, T., Mitchell, N. and Garnett, S. (2013), Whose backyard? Some precautions in choosing recipient sites for assisted colonisation of Australian plants and animals. Ecological Management & Restoration, 14: 106–111. doi: 10.1111/emr.12041

WOODFORD, J. E., MACFARLAND, D. M. and WORLAND, M. (2013), Movement, survival, and home range size of translocated american martens (Martes americana) in wisconsin. Wildlife Society Bulletin. doi: 10.1002/wsb.291

SMYSER, T. J., JOHNSON, S. A., KRISTEN PAGE, L., HUDSON, C. M. and RHODES, O. E. (2013), Use of Experimental Translocations of Allegheny Woodrat to Decipher Causal Agents of Decline. Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12064

Runge, M. C. (2013), Active adaptive management for reintroduction of an animal population. The Journal of Wildlife Management. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.571

COLLAZO, J. A., FACKLER, P. L., PACIFICI, K., WHITE, T. H., LLERANDI-ROMAN, I. and DINSMORE, S. J. (2013), Optimal allocation of captive-reared Puerto Rican parrots: Decisions when divergent dynamics characterize managed populations. The Journal of Wildlife Management. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.569

GRIFFITHS, C. J., ZUËL, N., JONES, C. G., AHAMUD, Z. and HARRIS, S. (2013), Assessing the Potential to Restore Historic Grazing Ecosystems with Tortoise Ecological Replacements. Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12087

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Remote sensing in reintroduction planning: oryx recovery in Chad

I was really pleased when I discovered the paper by Terri Freemantle and co-authors featured in this post, as I've been thinking about the potential for remote sensing to contribute to reintroduction programmes for a while now. One reason for this is the increasing frequency with which authors call for adequate assessments of habitat which recognise that due to global environmental change, the habitat may have altered since the species was extirpated. However, from the literature I've read, satellite-derived data is more readily used in predictive studies concerned with the potential for range shift and the feasibility of assisted colonisation. To me, it seems imperitive that reintroductions are just as careful to assess habitat suitability and the recent improvement in data that is available on global climate, vegetation and human impact should enable this to happen.

The paper concerns the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) and its potential reintroduction to a Sahelian/sub-Saharan region of Chad. As a herbivore, a major aspect of habitat suitability is the availability of forage and this can be detected as photosynthetically active vegetation in other words, green plants. The study identified a 'greening' of the Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve which the authors attribute to an overall increase in precipitation since the 1970s. They were also able to rule out hypotheses presented in previous studies that the increase in plant cover was due to human land use changes. They did this using a Human Footprint Index comprising data on transport, night-time lights, urban areas, land cover and population density to a resolution of 1 km. Whilst human disturbance has been relatively low and is not thought to be the driver behind greening, Freemantle et al indicate that the Reserve boundaries need to be enforced to prevent human encroachment onto now favourable pasture. The spatial variation in where greening has occured means that the oryx habitat may become squeezed as their preferred environment, the ecotone between desert and grassland, becomes narrower.

The authors admit that remote sensing techniques might be a crude tool for habitat evaluation but I agree with them that at landscape-scale, these methods offer a valuable source of information prior to undertaking any conservation translocation.  I would go further to point out that I know of few other studies that have incorporated human impact on this scale into a reintroduction planning exercise.  The data is there and available for anyone who wants to use it and I suggest that more people copy this example.

Freemantle, T. P., Wacher, T., Newby, J., & Pettorelli, N. (2013). Earth observation: overlooked potential to support species reintroduction programmes. African Journal of Ecology, n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/aje.12060

Friday, 7 June 2013

IUCN/SSC Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations - final version released

Just a quick update to let everyone know that the fully formatted version of the IUCN/SSC Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations (including annexes) has now been released and you can get a copy by emailing me: or following this link:

It's the same in content as the 'interim' version which I know many of you have seen but the final release looks nicer and has the full citation details:

IUCN/SSC (2013). Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations. Version 1.0. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN Species Survival Commission, viiii + 57 pp.  ISBN: 978-2-8317-1609-1