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Published as Chapter 12 in The Ethics of Captivity, Lori Gruen, ed.

Are there “fates worse than death,” to use Kurt Vonnegut’s title? Is captivity one such fate? Captive for Life examines these questions through the lens of conservation biology’s ex situ models of captive management — and captive breeding in particular — for wild animals, and especially for species that have been designated as Critically Endangered or as Extinct in the Wild. Drawing on interviews with leading conservation biologists, the chapter describes the erosion of the distinctions between species management in captivity and in wild nature, often referred to among experts as ex situ and in situ conservation. The chapter examines situations in which the extinction, or near-extinction, of a species in the wild is imminent, and a captive breeding program is initiated — typically by zoos — to ensure this species’ survival. Finally, I hint toward the possibility of abandoning the “in” and “out” paradigm, that has so characterized modern conservation narratives, in favor of an understanding of conservation that focuses on a more dynamic and less predetermined view of ecosystems and populations. Such a holistic model breaks with the bifurcations of modern conservation to offer relational configurations for managing wild life.

Publication Date



Oxford University Press



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in situ/ex situ, zoos, captive breeding, extinction, wild nature, captivity, ethnography, conservation biology, population management, One Plan approach, IUCN, Red List, meta-population


Criminology | Law | Law and Society

Captive for Life: Conserving Extinct in the Wild Species through Ex Situ Breeding