Australia has the largest number of endemic, non-fish vertebrate species on the planet. It is identified as one of the world’s “megadiverse” nations and is home to 15 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage listed natural sites.
As a nation, we have a less than exemplary record when it comes to protecting our natural heritage and since European settlement our rate of extinction of species remains the highest in the world. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists 33 Australian animal species as extinct, although the actual number of extinct species is likely to be much higher and many more species remain in danger. As of 2014, Australia’s threatened species list stands at 55 mammal species, 47 bird species, 43 reptile species, 47 amphibian species, and 106 fish species, many of which are considered critically endangered in their native habitat.
There are individual and collaborative efforts between Australian zoos, non-government organisations, research institutions, and state and federal governments to preserve a number of Australian species that are most immediately at risk of extinction. These programs aim to preserve the habitat of endangered species and to collect and breed examples of them in zoos and related facilities. These breeding programs are vitally important, but restricted in space and can only hold limited numbers of animals from a limited number of species. That’s where the AFZ comes in. For comparatively little cost, we can maintain a large collection of viable cells from many more individuals of many different species. These cells will be invaluable to assist breeding programs now and far into the future; many of our samples will outlive the animals they represent.