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Meeting Point – The Annual EAZA Conference in Budapest

EAZA2014It is beyond question that the largest meetings of zoo experts, especially directors and curators in Europe are the annual EAZA conferences. This association is large enough, currently (in 2014) it has 345 members from 41 countries in Europe and some “neighbouring” regions, like Israel or the United Arab Emirates. Thus, the number of delegates attending these conferences can exceed 500 or even 600. This year 650 zoo experts gathered in the heart of Budapest – including the authors of Zoomoments, as well. Of course, we will not miss the opportunity to write about this conference in our – somewhat subjective – reports.

elajos: I participated in almost every EAZA conference since 2001. What they had in common was the large number of participants that made it possible to meet your partners personally, often following long written conversations. Thanks to the central position of Budapest in Europe, a lot of zoo experts could attend the conference this year. Alas, the high costs of conference registration, travel and accommodation can reduce the number of participants, especially from the zoos located in countries in East and Southeast Europe.

Dr. Endre Sós's presentation about the Conservation project of the Hungarian meadow vipers (photo: elajos)Year after year, I have experienced some changes in the conferences. In the past they used to be focused mainly on the reports of the endangered species programmes (EEP) and the studbooks (ESB). The seemingly unending chain of these often prosy reports following each other made me sleepy irrevocably… This has changed over time, nowadays there are mostly interesting presentations in the several sections of taxonomy advisory groups (TAG). The presentations vary: conservation and in situ projects are emphasized along with pure zoo topics like collection management, keeping animals and veterinary aspects. Thanks to this change, the conferences have become more interesting, so the biggest challenge for me was to choose well among the parallel sections.

There was another conspicuous change in this conference, that was very positive in every way. Previously there were many species – such as the bonobo, the white rhino, the giant anteater or the red panda – whose programme coordinators and studbook keepers had to report insufficient reproduction or declining zoo populations in the past. In Budapest I listened to presentations about the breeding successes of many species (including the examples above) in the last year. With this in mind, it was not a surprise that contraceptive methods were emphasized, both in the plenary and the section presentations.

Which was the most interesting topic or presentation for me? The story of the conservation of Hungarian meadow vipers (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) seems to be a very good example of how ex situ and in situ work can cooperate. The presentations of LIFE+ programme leader Bálint Halpern and zoo veterinarian Dr. Endre Sós were both highly acclaimed by the zoo experts. The positive example of ex situ breeding and later reintroducing an almost extinct snake to the wild should convince the doubtful conservationists who do not support this sort of action. Thus, I have found a good topic for my next article on ZOOmoments!

The star of Budapest Zoo - a common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) (photo: elajos)Damson: This was the first EAZA Annual Conference that I attended, so it was completely new for me: new observations, new experiences, new knowledge. Since it is the first time, one would like to listen to all presentations. It is only that the plenary presentations, the section presentations and the workshops take place in nine rooms at the same time, so you are in trouble which one to visit. You have to choose those that are important for your zoo – and those in which you are the most interested personally.

One of the most important topics of the conference was the conservation campaigns. EAZA launched a conservation campaign every year since 2000. These campaigns last for one or two years. The goals of zoos participating in these campaigns are increasing public awareness and raising funds for supporting certain in situ conservation projects on the subject. The Pole to Pole campaign began last year and it goes on for one more year. This campaign is about the Poles, the wonderful wildlife of the Poles and the threats they face, especially the climate change. We have been shown examples at the conference of how some zoos have been raising public awareness to achieve the campaign’s goals.

Zoos aspiring for EAZA membership were given an opportunity to present their developments in order to become members. There were particularly many candidates to introduce themselves in Budapest: 13 institutions from Russia, Israel, Slovakia, Serbia and other countries.

There were presentations about some scientific news too, which influence the animal collections of the zoos. For example: do you know how many crocodile species live in Africa? I have just found out that while previously we knew only 3 species, modern genetic studies demonstrated that there were 7 species altogether. The Osteolaemus genus consists of three different species, the formerly undivided ‘Crocodylus niloticus’ is actually 2 different species as well as the formerly undivided ‘Mecistops cataphractus’, so now it is necessary for the zoos concerned to examine exactly which species their crocodiles belong to.

Which was the most interesting topic or presentation for me? The presentation about the stereotypic behavioural patterns of North American tree porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) by Simone Haderthauer from Schönbrunn Zoo, Vienna. It was a presentation of a practical topic which aimed to improve the welfare of these very interesting animals and which also provided useful information for our zoo.

Crowd of experts in a plenary section (photo: elajos)Thicius: It can be attributed to the advantage of home ground that I, along with my colleagues, had the rare opportunity of attending two or three presentations simultaneously. Therefore, we did not have to pick from certain workshops and TAG meetings, neither did we have to prioritize them.

Every conference has its particular atmosphere, apparently owing to its location and its host as well. This very important factor can determine a lot of things and it is usually an addition that cannot be calculated in advance. I trust that I am not alone with my opinion but for me this ’subtle’ addition was humour. This, of course, does not mean that the conference in Budapest would lack anything in terms of being professional or scientifically well-founded. It was, by all means!

It is well known that every conference, every presentation has its obligatory, important parts: descriptions, facts and data. Sometimes these can be rather dull or demanding, yet they are important components of scientific work and presentations. However it is humour that not only makes vivid, experience-based accounts unforgettable but also spices up otherwise prosaic presentations.

After the opening plenary session, I visited the Hornbill TAG section first, a decision I did not regret later, even if I have to admit that I had been worried before whether the announced programme would keep me interested enough. The presentations reviewed everyday experiences with a scientific approach in a way that everyone would be able to make use of them during their work later. It was a typical example of the atmosphere that I mentioned above.

As usual, the Callitrichid TAG, divided into two parts, was no letdown, neither were the Small Mammal or the Small Carnivore TAGs. It was good to see that certain EEPs had got their own sections with 1.5-2-hour time frames, one could really experience how these programmes worked and how much voluntary work is behind them, even if the latter is often invisible for outside observers. For instance, it was for the first time that the Cotton-top Tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) EEP had a meeting of its own. Seeing the work of the new coordinator so far ensures further active work and success!

Which was the most interesting topic or presentation for me? Perhaps it is not a big surprise, but it was ’Using nestbox cameras to improve management in breeding hornbills and other birds’ by Jan Dams (Weltvogelpark Walsrode). In a few words: professionalism, usability, experience and humour. Thank you, Jan!

 

Finally, as you have read, this is not an official report about the most important zoo meeting of the European region. Neither of us is in a decision-making position in this organisation – fortunately, so we could enjoy the conference as an opportunity to learn and to meet colleagues from faraway zoos… We hope we can see each other again in Wroclaw next year!

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