Into the wild: a year of breed-for-release at zoos


ZAA-accredited zoos and aquariums contribute to conservation through wildlife hospitals, partnerships, conservation research, education initiatives, visitor engagement, environmental sustainability work, behaviour-change campaigns and fieldwork in the wild.

One form of conservation effort that’s very satisfying to see is when zoos use their expertise to breed, raise and release threatened species back into our native environments, bolstering wild populations. 2019 has been a big one for breed and release programs across the ZAA membership.


Adelaide Zoo’s efforts to breed and release critically endangered orange-bellied parrots under the ZAA ASMP program for the species grew wings. 

For the first time Adelaide Zoo directly took part in the release of five birds into the wild, along with 20 other birds also released by other participants of the orange-bellied parrot Mainland Release Trial.

Alice Springs Desert Park successfully bred nine Mala for release into Newhaven Sanctuary (Australian Wildlife Conservancy).

Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in WA successfully bred 50 Woylies or Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia pencillata). This year they received the Australian Wildlife Society Community Wildlife Conservation Award and want to thank their amazing volunteers.


Critically endangered orange-bellied parrot from Adelaide Zoo

Mala bred by Alice Springs Desert Park for release to the Newhaven Sanctuary

Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre team 

Kākā to be released at Natureland Wildlife Trust

In September, 13 South Island kākā were transferred from Natureland Wildlife Trust to Abel Tasman National Park, where they were gradually released into the wild.

Three of the kākā were hatched at Natureland in December 2018 from eggs harvested from a wild nest and were raised by staff, whilst the rest came from other partners in this conservation project. Natureland was supported in this work through generous grants from the Rātā Foundation.

Involvement in the Project Janszoon Kākā release was also a highlight for Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, who crèched 12 of the kākā who came to Willowbank after being hand reared at Natureland and stayed for several months as a steppingstone in their journey towards the wild.

The overall project has been a collaboration between the Department of Conservation, Project Janszoon, Natureland Wildlife Trust, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, Dunedin Wildlife Hospital, Dunedin Botanic Garden, Bush Haven and Queenspark Invercargill.


Kākā travelling as part of Project Janszoon with Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

A kākā during the last stage of the journey to the wild. Image: 1News

Orange-fronted kākāriki in the breeding programme at Orana Wildlife Park

Bandicoot being released onto fox-free French Island from Zoos Victoria

Orana Wildlife Park continued to contribute to breed for release programmes for whio, pateke, kiwi and, for the first time, orange-fronted kakariki.

Significantly, in partnership with the Department of Conservation, 100 endangered kōwaro/Canterbury mudfish were transferred into their waterways as a backup population for these threatened native fish – the rarest mudfish in New Zealand – further transfers will occur next year with the aim of establishing a population of 300 kōwaro at Orana.

After decades of work, Zoos Victoria and Phillip Island Nature Parks released 74 Eastern Barred Bandicoots onto fox-free French Island.

The bandicoots were mainly bred at Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo and a few came from an earlier release at nearby Churchill Island. They are the beginning of a brand-new wild population that will hopefully flourish and help bring this species back from the brink of extinction.