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National policy for protected species in captivity

26 September 2003 Media Statement

First national policy for protected species in captivity

The first national policy standardising how protected native species should be managed in captivity was launched by Conservation Minister Chris Carter today.

The Captive Management Policy will apply to everyone holding in captivity native species absolutely protected under the Wildlfe Act. This includes threatened species, such as kiwi, kakapo and tuatara, through to more common species, such as tui and skinks.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) estimates there are over 50 protected species held in more than 30 public facilities, such as zoos, and private collections around the country.

"Until now we have lacked a national policy outlining when it is appropriate to hold a protected native species in captivity, how they should be held and the standards that those holding them must meet," Mr Carter said.

"This policy is a major step towards ensuring that the best interests of a protected species is foremost among the issues considered when putting it in a cage.

"DoC has worked to ensure that the policy reflects the zoo industry's movement in philosophy to displaying captive animals in more natural settings and only for a clear conservation purpose," Mr Carter said.

"The new policy clarifies and strengthens existing procedures and sets a high standard for enclosures and displays with this philosophy in mind."

Under the law, holding absolutely protected species requires a permit, and DoC is responsible for administering those permits. The policy will be applied when permits are reviewed or first granted.

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"Obviously the highest priority for DoC is protecting New Zealand's native species in the wild," Mr Carter said.

"However, captive management can be useful for raising public awareness of the plight of threatened species, and for breeding. Last season DoC's Kiwi Recovery Programme at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua successfully reared 40 kiwi chicks in captivity before releasing them into the wild.
"Captive management by other individuals and institutions outside DoC clearly plays an important role provided it is done properly and the policy recognises this," he said.



The first priority for the department in the conservation of species is to carry out this work in the natural habitats of these species. However, there are sometimes good reasons for keeping protected wildlife in captivity. In the long term, it can help restore their numbers in the wild. Holding species in captivity can however have negative effects on individual animals and on the conservation of some populations or entire species, if carried out inappropriately. The new Captive Management Policy sets out clearly when wildlife absolutely protected under the Wildlife Act may be held in captivity.

What is captive management?

Captive management relates to the holding and management of wildlife kept in enclosed areas, such as a Zoo display or a cage. Anyone wanting to hold absolutely protected wildlife in captivity must apply to DOC for a permit. The new policy helps clarify that DOC will give its permission only where there is a clear benefit for the conservation of absolutely protected wildlife.

Which species are covered by this policy?

This policy relates to wildlife absolutely protected under the Wildlife Act 1953. This includes almost all native New Zealand bird and reptile species ranging from threatened species such as the kakapo or tuatara, to relatively common species like kereru, tui and common skinks. Over 50 species are currently held in more than 30 public facilities and in private collections.

When can these species be held in captivity?

Under the new policy, DOC will give its approval for a species to be held in captivity for the following reasons:

First, captive management will be supported if there are direct, demonstrated, conservation benefits. That is, if it will help the recovery of a threatened species or the restoration of an ecosystem. A species recovery plan may require animals for introduction to a new location to increase the species range and a captive breeding programme could provide the stock needed to do that. A time limit may be put on the programme. It will need to be established first whether there are other stocks of that animal in the area, or if they could be brought in from other wild habitats.

Second, captive management will be supported where indirect conservation benefits can be demonstrated that warrant issuing a permit. This includes short-term care for injured animals to enable their rehabilitation. It can also include display of absolutely protected wildlife for conservation advocacy to raise public awareness of the conservation needs of New Zealand’s protected species. Standards of facilities must however be high and increases in public awareness of visitors needs to be demonstrated. Absolutely protected wildlife can also be held for export if the permit applicant can demonstrate it will improve the conservation of the species. This is likely to be approved in rare circumstances only.

Permit holders must also meet the minimum standards for animal welfare. See the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Exhibit Animals.

Who will be affected by this policy?

This policy will affect zoos and other public facilities where animals are on display, research facilities holding absolutely protected wildlife and private collectors.

Will this policy change current practices?

The new policy clarifies and strengthens existing procedures and sets a high standard for enclosures and displays. Enclosures must deliver as much of a natural environment as possible to the wildlife being held there, and advocacy displays must provide a clear conservation message to significant numbers of visitors.

It’s possible some existing collections and facilities, when they come up for review, will not meet the new standards and will have to be improved or phased out. Phasing out will occur over time to allow the animals in captivity to die naturally.

Where there is no review date currently associated with permits, the Department will establish these.

Whether you are a new or existing permit holder, the key at all times is to be able to demonstrate the conservation benefits of your display or collection.

Kakariki (parakeets) and lizards

The policy includes red and yellow crowned kakariki and common lizards, as these are absolutely protected under the Wildlife Act.

Many collections of these species are in private hands and many people may be unaware of the need to apply for a permit to hold these species. DOC wants to find out more about these collections and have greater input into their management because of the risks of transmitting diseases or bad genes into wild populations if the animals are released.

The Department of Conservation realises these collections are widespread. It will work through the implications of applying the new policy to this group of species over the next 12 months.

Further information

Please contact your local DOC office for more information on this policy, or for an application to hold protected wildlife in captivity.

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