Bring the captive closer to the wild: redefining the role of ex situ conservation

Diana J. Pritcharda1 c1, John E. Faa2, Sara Oldfielda3 and Stuart R. Harropa4

a1 University of Sussex, School of Global Studies, Sussex House, BN1 9RH, Sussex, UK

a2 Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Trinity, Jersey, Channel Islands, and Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, UK

a3 Botanical Gardens Conservation International, Richmond, Surrey, UK

a4 Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK


In situ conservation is central to contemporary global biodiversity protection and is the predominant emphasis of international regulation and funding strategies. Ex situ approaches, in contrast, have been relegated to a subsidiary role and their direct contributions to conservation have been limited. We draw on a variety of sources to make the case for an enhanced role for ex situ conservation. We note the advances occurring within institutions specializing in ex situ conservation and stress that, although much remains to be done, many constraints are being addressed. We argue that the evidence of increasing extinction rates, exacerbated by climate change, challenges the wisdom of a heavy dependence on in situ strategies and necessitates increased development of ex situ approaches. A number of different techniques that enable species and their habitats to survive should now be explored. These could build on the experience of management systems that have already demonstrated the effective integration of in situ and ex situ techniques and hybrid approaches. For organizations specializing in ex situ conservation to become more effective, however, they will require tangible support from the institutions of global biodiversity governance. Resistance is anticipated because in situ conservation is entrenched through powerful groups and organizations that exert influence on global conservation policy and facilitate the flow of funding. The chasm that has traditionally divided in situ and ex situ approaches may diminish as approaches are combined. Moreover, the relentless loss of the ‘wild’ may soon render the in situ / ex situ distinction misleading, or even obsolete.

(Received July 19 2010)

(Reviewed October 28 2010)

(Accepted December 09 2010)

(Online publication November 07 2011)


c1 University of Sussex, School of Global Studies, Sussex House, BN1 9RH, Sussex, UK. E-mail dp230@sussex.ac.uk