Chester Zoo is home to the European Association of Zoo and Aquaria’s (EAZA) Reproductive Management Group (RMG). This group supports EAZA breeding programmes by providing bespoke advice on reproductive management to EAZA breeding programmes.
The majority of the work of the RMG has historically been to provide European zoos with information on how to use contraception in their animals. They host the ‘Contraception Database’, shared with the Association of Zoos and Aquaria’s Reproductive Management Center, which now contains over 45,000 records of contraceptive use in exotic wildlife. This data is contributed by global zoos, and allows the RMG to identify trends in contraceptive use. This information is then compiled in a contraceptive guideline and disseminated within the community, ensuring that practices are as evidence-based as possible. When the RMG was first created in 2008, the group sent out around 6-10 guidelines per year. Now, we send out upwards of 120 per year, and have just reached a massive milestone – our 1000th guideline!
Contraception is a useful tool in the population management toolbox as it allows animal managers to temporarily prevent breeding in certain individuals. For example this might be if young individuals are in a family group and are awaiting a transfer to another zoo, or if there isn’t space for more offspring. Using contraception however, can be challenging as contraceptive products were not originally designed for use in zoo animals. Rather, products were developed for use in humans, companion animals, like dogs or cats, or livestock. As the reproductive physiology and biology can be very different in different species, ensuring that any products used are safe, reversible, and effective, is imperative.
The RMG contraceptive guidelines compile the most up to date evidence available – this includes information from the Contraception Database, peer-reviewed publications and grey literature, as well as the experience of working group members. We also work with different institutions and researchers to further understand the holistic impacts of contraception through targeted research projects.
We would like to thank all the institutions that have contributed their data to the Contraception Database and that have supported us through the years!