Mexican Gray Wolf

Types of Conservation

Conservation, the protection of the natural environment, is behind everything we do, both locally and globally. Two interesting phrases arise when we talk about biodiversity and conservation efforts—namely “in situ conservation” and “ex situ conservation.” 

In situ

As its name suggests, in situ protects an endangered animal or plant on site in its natural habitat.  In situ conservation defends a species from predators or protects and cleans up the habitat itself.  In situ conservation includes programs such as national parks, biological reserves and wetlands protection zones.  This type of conservation is effective when the number of individuals involved is sufficiently large. 

Ex situ

Ex situ, on the other hand, literally means off-site conservation; this approach protects a species by removing and relocating part of a population from a threatened habitat to a protected one, which may be a wild area or an area cared for by humans.  Examples of ex situ efforts include zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, nurseries, and seed banks.  Ex situ programs, lacking interaction with a special natural environment, can preserve only a fraction of the genetic diversity concerned.

The success of in situ programs requires creative interaction between research, public awareness, politics and the economy.  Although in situ conservation offers distinct advantages, it also involves risks, both natural and man-made.  An extreme example occurred in 1992 when the entire remaining habitat of the golden lion tamarin was nearly wiped out by a catastrophic fire.  In situ conservation measures face unpredictable natural changes in weather, food sources, rising predator populations and natural catastrophes like floods, droughts or fires as well as man-made changes due to mining, road construction and development, poaching, logging and livestock grazing.  Protected areas surrounded by densely populated areas can become “islands” and, therefore, vulnerable.  Therefore, a large array of conservation methods is necessary.  Clearly, when in situ conservation is inadequate, ex situ efforts become an essential alternative.