Species360 Member News: ZIMS analysis reveals success in China’s marine-mammal care programs.
From our files: A 2012 study offers an early look at the role of Species360 members in informing species conservation and population management programs. Here, Xianfeng Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences leads research in the success of Chinese aquatic programs and the opportunity for improving breeding programs that help to sustain populations.
Spurred by growing public interest and improved aquatic systems, China’s population of captive cetaceans, the suborder of marine mammals to which dolphins and whales belong, has increased considerably over the last few decades. Yet despite the number of cetaceans in captivity, firm data to inform proper breeding management programs has been elusive. Zoos and aquariums attempting to sustain viable populations of cetaceans can use large data-sets on those animals from around the world to provide valuable context on animal health and breeding potentials.
Almost a decade ago, scientist Xianfeng Zhang with the Chinese Academy of Sciences set out to better inform the zoo and aquarium community by determining the reproduction and survival demographics of Chinese captive marine mammal populations.
By using Species360’s Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), Zhang and his team compared the success of Chinese breeding programs with similar institutions around the world.
Zhang’s study yielded a surprising finding; “There are more cetaceans under human care in China than in any other country with zoological institutions that have (Species360) membership,” the study reports.
“There are more cetaceans under human care in China than in any other country with zoological institutions that have (Species360) membership.”Zhang et al. “Historical and Current Records of Aquarium Cetaceans in China.” Zoo biology. 31. 336-49
10 total cetacean species were under human care in China between the years of 1978 and 2012, when the study concluded. Of those species, four (the Yangtze finless porpoise, pantropical spotted dolphin, false killer whale, and Risso’s dolphin) could only be found in captivity in China. None of the species cared for in Chinese aquariums had markedly different survival rates with other institutions either within China or worldwide.
However, compared to other countries with high ratios of cetacean individuals born under human care, Chinese breeding programs were smaller and less productive.
“It was very difficult for some aquariums to run breeding management programs owing to sex ratio imbalance,” Zhang said. “Because of the large numbers of cetaceans in China, the situation can be improved if all aquariums cooperate.”
Zhang and his team used the data collected through their survey to compile regional studbooks for the animals. Studbooks are used to inform and support breeding and population management programs.
“The most important thing we need to do now is to design a breeding program to protect the existing populations rather than just find out how to maintain animal survival.”Zhang et al. “Historical and Current Records of Aquarium Cetaceans in China.” Zoo biology. 31. 336-49
Today, nearly 1,200 institutions worldwide share best practices as Species360 members including the more than 50 institutions that have joined Species360 in 2019. Most recently, China’s Changxing Taihu Longzhimeng Animal World (Longemont Animal World) joined Species360 and will use ZIMS to help manage the care of its wildlife.