Bring threatened wild populations into captivity

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Three studies evaluated the effects on reptile populations of bringing threatened wild populations into captivity. One study was in each of New Zealand, Myanmar and Australia.



  • Abundance (2 studies): One of two replicated studies in Myanmar and Australia found that after bringing Burmese start tortoises into captivity the populations increased from 175 individuals to over 7,000 in 12 years. The other study found that Lister’s gecko and blue-tailed skink populations remained stable or grew over 4–5 years in captivity.
  • Reproductive success (2 studies): Two replicated studies in New Zealand and Myanmar found that after bringing tuatara and Burmese start tortoises into captivity, 44% of tuatara eggs hatched successfully in 16 years, and the number of hatchlings produced by Burmese start tortoises increased from 168 to over 2,000 in eight years
  • Survival (1 studies): One replicated study in New Zealand found that varying proportions of wild tuatara brought into captivity survived for 16 years.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A replicated study in 1990–2007 in three captive facilities on North Island, New Zealand (Keall et al. 2010) found that most wild tuatara Sphenodon punctatus brought into captivity survived and bred. Over 16 years, eight of eight and six of six tuatara from two island populations survived in captivity. In addition, 11 of 15 tuatara from a third island survived and were released back into the wild (the fate of the remaining four is not described) and five of 11 tuatara from a fourth island survived in captivity. Clutches were laid in 13 of 16 years by 15 of 22 females, 44% of eggs hatched (241 of 553 eggs) and second-generation females produced three clutches. In 1990–1992, entire populations of tuatara from four islands were captured (6–15 individuals/island) and placed in one of three captive facilities pending eradication of pacific rats Rattus exulans. Tuatara were housed in predator-proof outdoor enclosures. In 1992–2007, eggs were moved to a separate facility and artificially incubated (see original paper for details). Hatchlings were returned to their source facility after one week to11 months. Hatching success does not include eggs that perished shortly after being laid (5–16 eggs in 2 clutches) and eggs laid by second-generation females.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated study in 2004–2016 in three wildlife sanctuaries in the central dry zone of Myanmar (Platt et al. 2017) found that three captive assurance colonies of Burmese star tortoises Geochelone platynota survived at least 12 years in captivity and bred. The total population of three captive assurance colonies of Burmese start tortoises increased from approximately 175 tortoises in 2004 to 7,150 tortoises in October 2016 (≤ 2-years-old: 4,849 individuals; subadults: 1,794 individuals; breeding adults: 501 individuals). Over 12 years, hatching rates were 50–75% (no further details are provided) and total annual number of hatchlings produced increased from 168 individuals in 2008 to 2,142 individuals in 2016. Female hatchlings hatched before 2010 had started laying eggs by 2016. The Burmese star tortoise was considered ecologically and functionally extinct in the wild during the 2000s. In 2004, three wildlife sanctuaries located within the tortoise’s historical geographic range were established as captive assurance colonies using confiscated juvenile, subadult and adult tortoises and some wild tortoises as founding stock (approximately 175 total tortoises of an equal sex ratio). Tortoises were housed in electric-fenced outdoor enclosures with shelter, food and water provided (see original paper for husbandry details). Nesting activity was monitored and eggs incubated and hatched in situ.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated study in 2009–2016 in two captive-breeding programmes on Christmas Island and at Taronga Zoo, Australia (Andrew et al. 2018) found that after bringing wild Lister’s geckos Lepidodactylus listeri and Christmas Island blue-tailed skinks Cryptoblepharus egeriae into captivity, populations were maintained successfully in four of four cases. Results were not statistically tested. On Christmas Island, populations of Lister’s gecko grew from 50 in 2012 to 500 in 2016, and populations of blue-tailed skinks grew from 150 in 2012 to 750 in 2016. At Taronga zoo, populations of Lister’s gecko (70 in 2011 and 70 in 2016) and blue-tailed skinks (100 in 2011 and 220 in 2016) remained relatively stable. In 2009, all Lister’s geckos and blue-tailed skinks that could be found on Christmas Island were brought into captivity. From these wild-caught individuals and their offspring, 56 geckos and 83 skinks were transported to Taronga, and the remaining 70 geckos and 109 skinks were maintained at facilities on Christmas Island. Captive management aimed to maximise retention of genetic diversity (see paper for more details).

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Sainsbury K.A., Morgan W.H., Watson M., Rotem G., Bouskila A., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Reptile Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for reptiles. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Where has this evidence come from?

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Reptile Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Reptile Conservation
Reptile Conservation

Reptile Conservation - Published 2021

Reptile synopsis

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