Conservation from the Perspective of Animal Behaviour

The struggle to conserve wildlife populations and preserve biological diversity is often impeded by in our inadequate understanding of animal behavior. How do animals react to get in forested land, or you or hunters? Do the variances in gender, age, size, or experience influence animal reactions to situation? The differences in individual behavior determine the success or failure of a conservation initiative, yet they are seldom ustalised by policies and strategies. Knowledge in the behavior of focal animals may help increase the effectiveness of conservation programs.

For example, captivity and release programs for conservation purposes have come about as result of behavioral studies. Captivity can compromise natural animal behavior and reduce the success of reintroduction programs (Linklater 2004). Successful release conservation programs utalise information provided from behavior on ‘free-range’, animals born in the wild (movements, range size, habitat preferences, shelter requirements, foraging and feeding ) to design practices  to improve replication of these behaviours.


Image1. Released by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation capture the moment that a young orangutan called Terusan was released into the wild, running from the cage waving his arms above his head. Terusan was one of 21 orangutans released into the wild at the Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest earlier this month after finishing jungle school.

The general strategies employed by individuals to maximize fitness plays an important part when their natural behavior leads to conservation problems in habitats now occupied by humans.

Specialize predators are good example of how animal behavior can affect wildlife management on a local scale.  For example in the 1980’s Radio collared Cougars (puma concolor) in southwestern Alberta, Canada were known to hunt deer and wapiti, one female cougar suddenly switched to preying on domestic dogs and hunting hounds; possibly as a response to increased residential development in their habitat. The normal reaction of a cougars perused by hounds is to climb a tree – as they would when perused by a pack of wolves. It is likely, climbing trees is an adaptive response to wolves. However, once a cougar had learned dogs are easier to kill, it may change its behavior and attack rather than flee.


Image 2. One Of The Collared Cougars In A Tree Along The Southern Alberta Foothills. (

With domestic dogs living in human quarters, and causing concerns in social situations, it would be very helpful for managers to know if the dog attacks are generalised or limited to specialized cougars. This example demonstrates how behavior, even in at the individual level can affect many aspects of wildlife management

 However you choose to look at wildlife management or conservation, the practical application involves considering both human and animal behaviours. Such knowledge needs to be adopted by those in the profession of managing wildlife.


On a personal note, I highly recommend the text ‘Animal behavior and wildlife conservation’ by Marco Festa-Bianchet and Marco Apollonio. This is a fantastic book focusing on the benefits of incorporating behavior into conservation.




Apollonio, M., Marco Festa-Bianchet, M. 2003, Animal Behavior and Wildlife Conservation, Nature, Environmental Conservation & Protection Washington, DC : Island Press.


Linklater, WL. 2004, Wanted for conservation research: behavioral ecologists with a broader perspective. BioScience 54: 352-360.



Bell, BD., Moore JA. and Linklater, WL. 2008, The Debate on Behavior in Conservation: New Zealand Integrates Theory with Practice. BioScience 2008 58 (5), 454-459


McPhee, EM. 2002, Generations in captivity increases behavioral variance: considerations for captive breeding and reintroduction programs. Biological Conservation 115: 71-77.                



About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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