Falconry - Captive Breeding and Conservation

Captive Breeding and Conservation

The successful and now widespread captive breeding of birds of prey began as a response to dwindling wild populations due to persistent toxins such as PCBs and DDT, systematic persecution as undesirable predators, habitat loss, and the resulting limited availability of popular species for falconry, particularly the peregrine falcon. The first known raptors to breed in captivity belonged to a German falconer named Renz Waller. In 1942–1943 he produced two young peregrines in Düsseldorf in Germany.

The first successful captive breeding of peregrine falcons in North America occurred in the early 1970s by The Peregrine Fund, Professor and falconer Heinz Meng, and other private falconer/breeders such as David Jamieson and Les Boyd who bred the first peregrines by means of artificial insemination. In Great Britain, falconer Phillip Glasier of the Falconry Centre in Newent, Gloucestershire, was successful in obtaining young from more than 20 species of captive raptors. A cooperative effort began between various government agencies, non-government organizations, and falconers to supplement various wild raptor populations in peril. This effort was strongest in North America where significant private donations along with funding allocations through the Endangered Species Act of 1972 provided the means to continue the release of captive-bred Peregrines, Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Aplomado Falcons and others. By the mid-1980s, falconers had become self-sufficient as regards sources of birds to train and fly, in addition to the immensely important conservation benefits conferred by captive breeding.

Between 1972 and 2001, nearly all Peregrines used for falconry in the U.S. were captive-bred from the progeny of falcons taken before the U. S. Endangered Species Act was enacted and from those few infusions of wild genes available from Canada and special circumstances. Peregrine Falcons were removed from the United States' endangered species list in 1999. Finally, after years of close work with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a limited take of wild Peregrines was allowed in 2001, the first wild Peregrines taken specifically for falconry in over 30 years.

Some controversy has existed over the origins of captive breeding stock used by The Peregrine Fund in the recovery of peregrine falcons throughout the contiguous United States. Several peregrine subspecies were included in the breeding stock, including birds of Eurasian origin. Due to the extirpation of the Eastern anatum (Falco peregrinus anatum), the near extirpation of the anatum in the Midwest, and the limited gene pool within North American breeding stock, the inclusion of non-native subspecies was justified to optimize the genetic diversity found within the species as a whole. Such strategies are common in endangered species re-introduction scenarios, where dramatic population declines result in a genetic bottleneck and the loss of genetic diversity.

Laws regulating the capture and import/export of wild falcons throughout the Middle East and Asia vary, and the effective enforcement of existing national and international regulations are lacking in some regions. The proliferation of captive-bred falcons into the falcon markets of the Arabian Peninsula has likely moderated this demand for wild falcons.

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