PUNE: An ex-situ centre to breed species of animals facing extinction will come up in a few months at the Rajiv Gandhi zoological park in Katraj. Animals like the rusty-spotted cat, jungle cat, mouse deer, king cobra and the Indian giant squirrel will be bred here.
Zoo director Kumar Jadhav told TOI that an 'off-site conservation' breeding centre for endangered animals outside their natural habitat will come up. Animals will be procured from other zoos, but they will not be put up as exhibits.
"The idea behind the conservation breeding is to increase their population. At present, these animals are dwindling. We have the expertise to take up such a project," he said.
VB Sawarkar, former director of Wildlife Institute of India, said that conservation breeding is carried out when there is concern about the status of the population of a species in the wild. "In case of a drastic decline in the population or the habitat is lost, conservation breeding is taken up to save the animal species from extinction. It is carried out to restore the population. Animals are bred in captive condition and later released in the wild," he said.
There have been such experiments elsewhere in India. Pygmy hog, a small species of wild pig in India, which inhabited Nepal, Bhutan and India, is now only found in Assam. Human encroachment has largely destroyed the natural habitat of the pygmy hog. Development, agriculture, domestic grazing and deliberate fires have robbed them of habitat.
They were bred in Guwahati zoo. Two males and four females comprised the founder species with which the captive breeding started in 1996. In 2004, the authorities successfully bred 70 animals, which were rehabilitated in the wild.
Another example is of Pere David's deer that was extinct from native China. It was captive bred in European zoos.
However, captive breeding needs certain conditions. The psychological condition and sex ratio of the animals should be looked into before conservation breeding is taken up.
Experts said it is not just about keeping animals in pairs and breeding them. They need behavioural environment and population parameters must be studied. For example, there are animal species that should have more female population compared to male for successful breeding.
"In many cases, after successful breeding, the animals are either left in sanctuaries or released into the wild when there is a natural habitat to support them or the threat to the species has lessened," Sawarkar said.
The giant Indian squirrel found in Bhimashankar wildlife sanctuary is now seen in scattered population. The mouse deer in Maharashtra is difficult to spot and there is a decline in population of the jungle cat and rusty-spotted cat.
Permission from the Central Zoo Authority and trained biologists are needed for conservation breeding, BC Choudhari, scientist, Wildlife Institute of India said.
Nandankanan zoological park in Orissa was the first in the country to have a captive breeding centre of endangered species. It has undertaken a reintroduction programme for species like the gharial, mugger, blackbuck and spotted deer.