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The Welfare of Animals During Translocation for Conservation

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Despite continuous efforts and advancements in recent years, animal conservation translocation remains to have a variable degree of success, in terms of projects that have run without complications and death of the animals. By comparing articles and reports of translocations alongside the five domains model of animal welfare, it can easily be demonstrated that wild animal transport and the release of animals can challenge all five animal welfare needs. The foreign environment can have a significant impact on the physical functional domains, behaviour, health, environment, and nutrition, as well as the mental state of the animal. The individuals can experience dehydration, fatigue, immunosuppression, stress, and behavioural changes. Reports and data on factors influencing these physiological responses are limited, and only a few studies explore such factors. These studies encompassing journey length, species, ambient temperature, vehicle motion, orientation, habituation, stock density, vehicle speed and road terrain type are vital in trying to understand what causes these animals to suffer during translocation. Further research into this could allow for better practice in ensuring animal welfare by improving the methods to keep suffering to a minimum. During capture the administration of tranquilizers have shown mitigation of negative physiological responses to the projects. The need to further investigate specific species and situations remains, in order to fully explore all causes of such challenges. Such as how to further improve and adapt methods to raise the survival rate of the individuals and the overall success rate for each translocation procedure for ensuring the best practise for animal welfare by keeping suffering to an absolute minimum.

Translocation is a commonly used management tool to establish, re-establish or increase wildlife populations (Seddon et al., 2007). It has become a major conservation strategy in attempts to reinstate self-sustaining wild populations of a species or group of animals that are in some way at threat. Animals translocated for a welfare purpose is described to be to avoid their certain death or to improve their wellbeing (Serge et al., 2016). A primary goal for wildlife translocations in conservation is to release animals to a new environment in which they are still able to survive and reproduce at release sites (Kleiman, 1989). However, this method throughout studies shows a trend of a high number of failures (projects resulting in multiple deaths after translocation). Although causes for these failures are poorly understood, stress is often cited as a significant factor.

The process of translocation across species can often be incredibly stressful. This can cause a series of issues which can impact the animals’ ability to adapt to its new environment. The onset of chronic stress has led to many failures in rehabilitation and capture and release projects. It was found that capture alone, decreased the acute glucocorticoid response but adding exposure to captivity, and transport further altered the stress response as evident from a decreased sensitivity of the negative feedback system. It was also discovered that the animals had significantly low cortisol concentrations and significantly reduced body weight after translocation. All indicating that chronic stress was potentially a major factor in this study (Dickens et al., 2009). The role of chronic stress may also be a key factor in whether translocation is a feasible tactic to rescue climate change effected species (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2008).

Although stress itself is not a factor linked to welfare and may be more of an ethical concern (in terms of welfare, suffering of an animal does not have to be eradicated completely, but minimised). Having said this the two can often be interlinked and this is the case for this review as the stress induced by the capture and release, or sometimes new environment can have knock on effects on the animals’ cognitive abilities. For example, memory, which an animal needs to survive in the wild. It is important to note that translocation goes against three out of the five freedoms of welfare; the freedom from discomfort, from fear and distress, as well as the freedom to express normal behaviours. It is important to note that translocation can hinder the animals’ chances at displaying normal or expected behaviours. Although it is for the best interest of the animals, the effect of the transportation or even unfamiliar environment can affect the animals, causing reactions as serious as tonic immobility or even resulting in death. Thus, their survival rates being compromised, and the number successful projects being reduced (May et al., 2016). For this reason, few translocations focus on species with a higher risk of global extinction. The probability of failures has been linked as cause for the decline in translocation projects and the success rate over time has not much improved (Bubac et al., 2019).

Physiology through practices is more often than not undervalued as a key factor in failures and it could be suggested that with novel approaches addressing this could improve success rate and animal welfare. In a review by Tarzisz et al., (2014), 232 publications were examined in which success was assessed as high success or low success. In each procedure it was determined whether these studies explicitly incorporated physiological aspects into their protocols and monitoring. It was made apparent that this evaluation before and after release of the wild animals had a direct impact on the translocation success. From this, it can easily be argued that incorporation of physiological assessments at all stages of translocation can have significant welfare implications and be used to improve current translocation methods.

A malignant outcome of stress during capture operations is capture myopathy or overstraining disease. Capture myopathy accounts for the highest number of deaths associated with wildlife translocation. Such deaths usually are indicative of how well animal welfare was considered and addressed during a translocation exercise (Breed et al., 2019). Importantly, it means that due to these devastating consequences on the continued existence of threatened and endangered species it is too great of a risk during capture and movement for the species which may need it the most.

Translocation, despite the imperfections, provides a benefit that is measurable for the population restoration in a species and animal count. This management tool can save species with depleting numbers across populations or in the area translocated to. In addition to the overall benefit of the ecosystem, not just providing benefit to individuals translocated. This method has proven valuable in saving endangered species from extinction. For example, numbers of Mallorcan Midwife toad returned after captive breeding and status of the species was able to down-list severity from critically endangered to vulnerable (Serra et al., 2009). It could easily be argued that welfare could be jeopardised during these projects. As conservation focuses on the species and prevention of extinction, whereas animal welfare is more about the individual and its personal suffering.

Dependent on species, individual temperament traits can also have an impact on survival in an unfamiliar environment. Traits such as aggression, reactivity, exploration, and sociability can all have an effect. (May et al., 2016). This is especially a concern with animals that are dependent on each other in groups or may have a hierarchical system or social structure such as primates. Such access to literature on this issue is limited. A study dating back to 1984 recorded by two research groups found that 12 years prior to translocation and observed for a further 18 years afterwards). A comparison of the indigenous troops at the site of releases provided a control for assessment. Birth rate, death rate, patterns of mortality and survivorship, body condition, intestinal parasites, and group size, were all taken into consideration. According to these criteria the primates (in this case baboons) managed to survive and were described as doing better than could be expected in their new home. However, this source does not go on to describe exactly what this means. For a long time, it appears translocation in primates was mostly avoided in consideration of their wellbeing and avoid deaths (Serge et al., 2016).

In a more recent study on Bornean orangutans there have been many translocation attempts that have even been urged by the Indonesian government. In an action planning spanning from 2007-2017 (Srak 2007) mandated release of all orangutans from rescue facilities. It prevented any loss of orangutans from concession stands and urged that translocation from a damaged habitat should be a last resort (Sherman, 2020). These releases to improve animal welfare, reduce captive populations, secure funds or publicity, or move animals for economic development purposes did not meet IUCN criteria for conservation releases. Which states that “the intentional movement and release of a living organism where the primary objective is a conservation benefit: this will usually comprise improving the conservation status of the focal species locally or globally, andor restoring natural ecosystem functions or processes. (IUCNSSC, pp.12 2013)

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The current understanding of orangutan behaviours such as the maternal knowledge transfer necessary for effective foraging (Schuppli et al., 2016), male territoriality (Utami Atmoko 2009), and female philpatry (van Noorwijk et al., 2012) is not grounded within the release sites, showing how much translocation has an impact on these animals. An extended period in captivity have also been linked as a risk to the success of release (Grundmann, 2006).

Data collected from hard releases, in which the animals were not provided supplementary food or any other support, showed that the majorityof rehabilitants struggled during the first few months whilst trying to learn how to forage for food (Anon. Rescue centre reports; Basalamah et al., 2018). Limited data suggests that in comparison to wild conspecifics, many orangutans facing hard release spent abnormally high amount of time resting or sleeping instead of foraging. The same centre also found that within the first year of release 8% of the orangutans died; including one within the first two months. There was also an unspecified number which had to be recaptured due to starvation or malnutrition.

Wild orangutans captured for translocation (at a count of 621) almost equivalent to the ex-captive orangutans released between 2007 and 2017 (605). Most of these animals were translocated to new habitats within 6 months however 98 of these orangutans were held for far longer some were even held 2-5 years before what was considered as “suitable release sites could be found. The study does not specify exactly as what deems to be suitable however, its likely atleast some of these wild animals had some kind of distress whilst being held waiting for release. Although, it is likely they were rescued from worse conditions (it was not stated in this report) it also does not delve into exactly why it took so long.

Sherman et al., also states that at least three of the nine rescuerelease organisations reported having contractual agreements with industrial agriculture, forestry, and mining concessions to find and translocate the orangutans as they were considered a problem. This raises a few questions about how much welfare was considered since it would not be a primary goal of these industries and businesses. It could also be questioned if the organisations were carrying out the translocations using the best practise if they were being paid and under contractual agreements. Many researchers that Sherman et al were in contact with were said to note that the translocations usually would go unreported, but also that orangutans were often dumped into inappropriate locations without formal documentation nor post-release monitoring. Several researchers also epress that translocating elderly males Is not good for their welfare, particularly for those coming to forest edges to forage as they are outcompeted by yoiunger males. Similarly, adult female would also have trouble establishing home ranges as unrelated females do not tolerate each other. Yet, the majority of translocated orangutans (60%) were adults, 31.8% males and 28.5% females. Out of the nine facilities only two provided detailed data. Individual facilities available data were more often than not very inconsistent in their reports even for the same variable in the same year.

Across studies the consensus is that the mortality rate is incredibly high with a plethora of articles documenting a rate of 50% of the animals dying or higher (Hawkins and Montgomery, 1969, Bryan and McCollough, 1985, Jones and Witham, 1990) including a study of grey squirrels recording a mortality rate of 97% (Adams et al., 2004) and a translocated deer species in which reports a mortality rate of 85% (McCollough et al., 1997). The articles show a clear significant trend. However, there remains to be limiting factors in obtaining a clear estimate of the success on a global scale, as the statistics of the ratio of failures to successes per year are unknown. Griffith et al (1989) estimates 700 translocation programmes per year in the U.S. alone. It is important to note many different countries companies may be enforced by law to undertake animal rescue and translocation programmes, such as in Brazil for example. However, data remains hidden and is not widely available for analysis (Teixeira et al., 2007). These deaths are often associated with the inability of the animal to return tpo normal behaviours such as foraging for example but capture myopathy can also be an issue. Capture myopathy is a condition results in mortality effecting wild animals around the globe. It occurs due to inflicted stress or physical exertion, typically due to prolonged or intense pursuit, restraint, capture, or transportation of wild animals. The condition carries a grave prognosis, and despite intensive extended and largely non-specific supportive treatment, the success rate is poor (Breed et al., 2019).

Fewer translocations focus on species with a higher risk of global extinction. Probability of failed translocations were linked to initial reason for decline. Likelihood of failed translocations within first four years of release. Translocation success not changed much over time which would also explain why it is not excessively used today but only for necessity (Bubac et al., 2019).

Translocation for conservation is essential method in wildlife conservation yet remains floored. Improved transparency on rescue and release would allow further research to improve the effectiveness of each translocation. It still remains too risky for the species that may need it most. Welfare of the animals involved is often jeopardised in terms of many of the welfare needs not being met. Although it is a great method thast is very useful for conservation, there is still a long way to go to try and minimise suffering and mortality rates. Further research is needed to be conducted in order to find methods that are not so distressing.

It’s also important to note that organisations which are involved with agriculturecommercial companies, they are often avoiding releasing or providing data from translocations. It could be argyed that they may not want the negative backlash from public or welfare supportersactivists and thus would avoid releasing data with low rates of success. Although this information remains limited, it is likely that many animals die during these programmes as even scientific attempts often have mortality or failures. It could also be likely, if the welfare of animals is placed as a secondary priority to the commercial and financial benefits for the companies and businesses.

It could also be argued that papers reporting successes may not include all challenges which although represents the positive aspects of translocation in conservation it may not be transparent in depicting the harsh consequences of the risks associated. Many projects through the peer reviewed paper may be biased towards prolific and successful translocation programme as they could be reluctant to report failures. Doing so, shows the method in a positive light and the importance of the projects are well presented. However, it makes it harder for those involved in welfare to assess the difficulties encountered. Thus, giving the ability to be able to utilise this knowledge and make improvements for future conservation and specie preservation attempts.

There remains an urgency to adequately determine the physiology, what causes so many deaths during translocation. As well as what triggers the induction of capture myopathy in order to identify targets for treatment, to ensure animal welfare and the survival of already endangered species.

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The Welfare of Animals During Translocation for Conservation. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“The Welfare of Animals During Translocation for Conservation.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
The Welfare of Animals During Translocation for Conservation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
The Welfare of Animals During Translocation for Conservation [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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