A few years ago I set to the seemingly impossible task of arranging the import of vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) to Europe. Luckily I found a good partner in the United States and I could solve the most difficult veterinary problems, too. I got a recommendation in the meantime to send our bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) to the same zoo (Brookfield), since this species was quite rare on the other side of the ocean. I was somewhat surprised in the end because I expected that the mutual transport would be much more problematic and expensive – it wasn’t. But why should we think about exchange between the continents?
The two largest zoo associations of the world, the AZA in the United States (mainly) and the European EAZA appear very similar. The organizational structure, the operation of the numerous taxonomy advisory groups (TAG) and endangered species programs (Species Survival Plan – SSP, European Endangered species Programme – EEP, studbooks) and the ideas of zoos are essentially the same in both associations. However, there is a significant difference in the collections of species. The reason for this – except for native species – may be historical, there used to be initial differences between the collections in the past. Now, when a zoo thinks about keeping a unique species, it is worth taking a look at the collections of far countries. In addition, there are species that are equally rare in both continents but the exchanges could reduce inbreeding. So, let’s see some differences and similarities between American and European collections!
I began the comparison with the taxonomy advisory groups, programmes and studbooks. The number of TAGs is 46 in AZA and 40 in EAZA, which is a slight difference because the groups consisted of almost the same lower taxons. There are much more species programmes and studbooks in AZA than in EAZA. There are 465 SSPs and 549 studbooks in the US while there are 189 EEPs and 195 ESBs (European Studbook) in Europe, as of November 2014. I focused on comparing the SSPs and EEPs. There are 110 species/subspecies being coordinated in both associations (23,45% in AZA and 58,20% in EAZA). There are some programme species which are absent or very rare in the other association. There is a little chance that visitors can meet 48 EEP species in AZA zoos (25,40% of the EEPs). Mutually, there are 94 SSP species which are totally or nearly absent in European zoos (20,04% of the SSPs).
What are these missing species? A lot of them are native animals, like the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) or the European bison (Bison bonasus). However, it is interesting that there are SSPs for European species: the European white stork (Ciconia ciconia), the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) and the cinereous vulture or Eurasian black vulture (Aegypius monachus). It is even more interesting that only the last one is related to an EEP. North American species are underrepresented in the list of EEPs; I found only two species that live in the wild in North America but not in Europe: the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) and the Caribbean manatee (Trichechus manatus). All in all, it can be said that there are more programmes of native species in AZA (51 species – 10,87%) than in EAZA (12 species – 6,3%).
Both associations prefer manageable species and subspecies. For example, there are only two tiger programmes in EAZA: the Sumatran (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and the Amur tiger (P.t. altaica) EEPs, other subspecies are not recommended. There are 4 tiger SSPs in AZA, the programmes of Malayan (Panthera tigris jacksoni) and generic tigers too, so there are more options of choosing a tiger subspecies for keeping. The situation of leopards is completely the opposite: there is only one leopard programme, the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) SSP in the United States, while there are Sri Lankan (P.p. kotiya), North Chinese (P.p. japonensis) and Persian leopard (P.p. saxicolor) EEPs in Europe, as well. These latter subspecies are very rare in AZA zoos.
3 animals that you cannot see in the United States
I mentioned above that there are few leopard subspecies (Panthera pardus) in AZA zoos. The large Sri Lankan leopard is completely absent in the United States. It is quite rare in Europe too, 22 zoos keep about 50 specimens.
The Alaotran gentle lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis), that looks like a plush toy with vampire teeth, is a critically endangered species. It is bred successfully in European zoos, but is absent in America.
A success story of zoo conservation was saving the Persian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica) from sure extinction. The species is bred well in Europe and Israel but you cannot see them in the zoos of United States.
3 animals that you cannot see in Europe
One of the most interesting antelope species is the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), yet European visitors cannot see this animal because there are no zoos to keep them.
Which is the most beautiful bird? There are many possible answers, but the birds-of-paradise stand a good chance of winning the contest. Unfortunately, European visitors have a very little chance to see the most beautiful species of these birds (Paradisaea spp.), while they are not rare in the North American zoos...
One of the most emblematic birds of nature conservation efforts is the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus). However, they can only be seen in America.
This is a short, not very deep comparison of the two great associations. Nevertheless, it is enough to show the possible advantages of cooperation between American and European zoos, so I hope that exchanges between them will be much more common in the future than they are now.