London Zoo conservation breeding

When visiting London Zoo you will see lots of animals that are part of conservation breeding programmes.

This means they are part of a concerted effort to save their species with a population that could eventually be released back into the wild.

For many of the species involved this goal remains out of reach at the moment because their natural habitats are so depleted they can’t sustain populations, and the animals’ wild counterparts are steadily declining or possibly already extinct-in-the-wild.

But for others the news is better and London Zoo conservationists have been able to successfully breed and reintroduce animals back to the wild. This includes animals like the partula snail, northern bald ibis, fen raft spider and many others over the years.

We are also able to use everything we learn from keeping animals here to advise vets and conservationists in other countries reintroducing animals from protected breeding populations elsewhere. This includes species like griffon vultures, hihi birds and even Amur tigers in Russia. 


Saving species through breeding programmes

Establishing and managing sustainable breeding populations is core to London Zoo’s role in conservation – but we don’t do it alone. 

Breeding programmes in zoos are managed collaboratively at a European, or sometimes global, level. The aim of the European Endangered Species Programmes (EEP) is to ensure those species threatened with extinction in the wild has a healthy backup population in zoos.

A healthy population needs to be demographically and genetically diverse to ensure individuals have the highest possible fitness. These animals are then both available and suitable for reintroduction should the need be identified in a species conservation plan. 

The pairing and breeding of particular animals is managed by one European or global studbook holder, who makes “matches” according to genetic diversity and other suitability criteria. It means if London Zoo (or any zoo) is asked to send an animal to another zoo for breeding, we will co-operate to ensure the zoo population overall is as strong and healthy as possible. 


Reintroducing animals to the wild

The poor condition of many wildlife habitats means reintroduction from zoos is still not a commonly used tool for species conservation, but it is one of a suite of options available. 

If the wild release of animals born in zoos is identified as the best conservation approach, a conservation breeding centre may be established in the range country while any work to optimise the local habitat is undertaken.

There are lots of things to think about including disease-risk analysis to ensure no new pathogens are introduced to fragile wild ecosystems. On site at London Zoo we have the Institute of Zoology, where a lot of this work is undertaken ahead of UK species reintroductions for animals like the Hazel dormouse.

We're part of ZSL, an international science-driven charity, and carry out wildlife conservation work all over the world.

Conservation at ZSL

Creating a new future for an ancient species

Developing a route for recovery for Chinese giant salamanders

Together with our partners, we completed the largest ever wildlife survey in Chinese conservation history, and discovered just 24 giant salamanders, all of which were likely escapees from farms.

How our Zookeepers are helping save a species

Pink pigeon recovery programme

From just a dozen individuals to hundreds - together anything is possible.

Bringing hihi back from the brink of extinction

Hihi conservation

How this tiny bird is helping reframe wildlife conservation translocation programmes globally.