Guam Kingfisher © Guam Department of Agriculture

Extinct in the Wild: can these 5 bird species come back from captivity?

In the light of the successful reintroduction of Guam Rail, we consider the prospects of the five remaining bird species categorised as Extinct in the Wild – all of which face unique barriers to re-entry.


By James Lowen

Extinction is forever. Or is it? Granted, there’s no way to reincarnate the Dodo Rapphus cucullatus. Yet five species that have vanished from forests or  skies still survive in captivity. They may live behind bars, but they at least exist. Classified as ‘Extinct in the Wild’, these ‘lucky few’ have at least a smidgeon of hope of joining Guam Rail Hypotaenidia owstoni and California Condor Gymnogyps californianus in coming back from beyond the brink. So what plans are there to reintroduce the quintet?

Conservation breeding programmes – ex-situ fostering of a species’ population, usually in zoos or aviaries – have become an increasingly valuable tool thanks to what BirdLife International’s Nigel Collar and Stuart Butchart described in a 2014 scientific paper as “the increasing rapprochement between aviculture and conservation organisations”. The duo identified 257 bird species where captive breeding should be contemplated, including 13 where they judged it ‘necessary’.

Reintroductions are complex, requiring long-term commitment from a network of organisations. The birds featured here – three from Pacific islands, two Brazilian – tell different stories. Two are benefiting from painstaking recent reintroductions, with another planned for 2021. But there’s no date set for the others.

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