Captive breeding of native wildlife


Many Australian native wildlife species have been negatively affected since European settlement with introduced predators, competition from introduced species and altered habitat all being implicated in their decline or extinction.  Due to this, many wildlife species are now bred in captivity in an attempt to preserve Australia’s biodiversity.  Despite ongoing research on Australian native wildlife, both field-based and in captivity, significant gaps exist in our understanding of the general biology, behaviour and developmental milestones of many species. 

Research into captive breeding provides the opportunity to acquire critical information to contribute to the preservation of native wildlife.  Captive breeding and reintroduction programs need to be tailored to individual species and scenarios (Moseby et al. 2014) so the potential for research in this field is vast. 

Active partnerships between the government, academic, zoo and non-government sectors are critical to providing long-term viable solutions for the survival of Australian wildlife (Hogg 2013), and reintroductions of captive-bred wildlife are of increasing importance for conservation (Attard et al. 2016).   For some species the captive breeding program has been so successful, because the released animals have established self-sustaining populations, that captive breeding is no longer required (Hogg 2013). 


Captive breeding of threatened or endangered wildlife is required for two main reasons (Rahbek 1993) to provide:

  • An insurance population in the event of extinction in the wild
  • A source animals for reintroductions, rewilding or translocations

Captive breeding programs of common species can be established to improve our knowledge of that species or a closely related endangered or threatened species.

Captive breeding programs are not the sole answer to the conservation of endangered species.  However in conjunction with field-based conservation efforts and threat mitigation, positive outcomes can be achieved.


Methods of breeding captive wildlife vary in complexity.  For example, some species may have relatively simple breeding requirements, such as maintaining normal husbandry, placing a male and female together, monitoring their interactions and checking for the appearance of young.  Alternatively, captive breeding for other species may require more complex processes including manipulating photoperiod, adjusting quantity and quality of their diet, or undertaking invasive procedures, such as artificial insemination.  Implementing genetic management of animals involved in captive breeding is critical to its success.

Expected outcomes

Institutions that maintain captive breeding colonies of wildlife are generally integrated into the research community and are able to contribute to scientific knowledge by:

  • Research into pure and applied biology (e.g. animal welfare, medicine, taxonomy, nutrition, behaviour, reproduction)
  • In situ research (i.e. field-based)
  • Research to improve the management of captive animals

The University of Queensland has successfully maintained and bred captive colonies of the endangered mahogany glider (Petaurus gracilis), bridled nailtail wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata) and Julia Creek dunnart (Sminthopsis douglasi).  A breeding colony of the common fat-tailed dunnart (S. crassicaudata)  has also been successfully maintained at UQ.


Attard, CRM, Moller, LM, Sasaki, M, Hammer, MP, Bice, CM, Brauer, CJ, Carvalho, DC, Harris, JO and Beheregaray, LB 2016, A novel holistic framework for genetic-based captive-breeding and reintroduction programs, Conservation Biology, vol. 30, no. 5, pp. 1060-9.

Hogg, CJ 2013, 'Preserving Australian native fauna: zoo-based breeding programs as part of a more unified strategic approach', Australian Journal of Zoology, vol. 61, no. 1, pp. 101-8.

Moseby, KE, Hill, BM and Lavery, TH 2014, 'Tailoring Release Protocols to Individual Species and Sites: One Size Does Not Fit All', Plos One, vol. 9, no. 6.

Rahbek, C 1993, ‘Captive breeding – a useful tool in the preservation of biodiversity?’ Biodiversity and Conservation, vol. 2, pp. 426-37



Project members

Ms Patricia O'Hara

Technical Officer - Native Wildlife
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences

Dr Julia Hoy

School of Agriculture and Food Sciences

Dr Andrew Tribe

Wildlife Manager
The Gainsdale Group

Associate Professor Peter Murray

Associate Professor
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences