Two zoos from America’s east and west are combining resources to provide space for endangered, threatened or vulnerable animals to roam hoping that the large area will entice animals to breed naturally. “The breeding site, which will be among the largest in the United States, represents the latest version of a wildlife conservation model based on the finding that certain species mate more successfully when allowed to roam in herds rather than when paired off in captivity,” wrote New York Times writer Campbell Robertson.

Indeed, looking back at unsuccessful attempts to breed lonesome George, the last of a subspecies of giant Galápagos tortoise, if a hormone-drenched Swiss zoology student couldn’t manually convince George to mate, then perhaps some open air will entice other species before it’s too late.

The Audubon Nature Institute, based in New Orleans, and California’s San Diego Zoo Global announced Tuesday that adequate enclosures at a facility to allow numerous species to roam will be built later this year. The facility, owned and run by the Audubon Institute, is located in Algiers, Louisiana. Currently known as the Audubon Nature Center, the facility will expand to 1,000 acres. Organizers hope breeding of the first few species will begin in 2014, although the facility itself will likely not be completed until 2018.

A Bongo antelope

Audubon President and Chief Executive Ron Forman told reporters the breeding center in progress will be a “one-of-a-kind resource for zoos and aquariums to rebuild animal collections that are in danger of disappearing.” The plan is to first stock zoos in need of certain animals so the species avoids extinction, then eventually (decades or a century later) the animals will by systematically released into the wild to replenish depleted populations.

The Audubon Institute and San Diego Zoo plan to breed lions, bongo antelopes, slender-horned gazelles, scimitar-horned oryx, whooping cranes, sandhill cranes, flamingos, secretary birds, pink-backed pelicans, okapis and common elands at the facility.

The Audubon Institue has invested $30 million in the Algies facility, located near the Mississippi River near New Orleans’ west bank. Audubon acquired the land from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1990. The two zoos will invest another $10 million into construction of the new pens and padlocks for the projected new animals. The facility will likely not be open to the public since it will be used for breeding and research purposes only.

Oryx image from Jacob (jacobdragoon) on the flickr Creative Commons, Bongo image from Trisha Shears (ltshears) on the flickr Creative Commons

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