Protecting Diversity: Population Management Strategies for the RS

June 3, 2024 by María V. Cedeño

The environmental NGO Provita, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, is putting a fresh twist on the 2024 red siskin breeding season by implementing a new population management plan.

This new strategy aims to pair the most suitable birds in order to maintain genetic variability and reproductive success in this population  – all with a view toward successful  future reintroduction of this species in its natural habitat.

The Venezuelan red siskin is a small neotropical bird, native to our northern mountains. It is currently classified as Critically Endangered in Venezuela, with its main threats including capture for the illegal pet trade and habitat loss due to agricultural and urban expansion.

In the face of this delicate situation, an action plan was established in 2015, giving rise to the “Red Siskin Initiative,” a collaboration between national and international individuals, institutions and communities. This plan encompasses five essential pillars, among which is “Rescuing, breeding and reintroducing more red siskins.”

To establish a center of operations, the first Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) was inaugurated in 2019 at Leslie Pantin Zoo in Aragua, Venezuela, where birds are rescued and rehabilitated from illegal trafficking. Since then, 40 birds have found refuge in these facilities.

After two successful breeding seasons,the increase in this ex situ population created a need to implement a population management plan to ensure optimal use of the space available . Rigorous genetic and demographic analyses were carried out in order to select the ideal pairs for the current breeding season.

Careful management of red siskins at the RSCC is supported by a studbook database  maintained by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI). The studbook compiles data on identity, origin, sex, age and family relationship , ensuring that the selected breeding pairs maintain high  genetic diversity and low inbreeding in the population. With the new pairs ready for this year’s breeding season, we celebrate another step towards a secure future for the red siskin.