The membership organization of the leading zoological gardens and aquariums in Europe, EAZA held its annual conference on 20-24 September 2016 in Belfast. As of now, the association has more than 370 member institutions in 44 countries throughout Europe and the Middle East. The number of the participants is getting higher from year to year, so nearly 800 delegates arrived not only from the regions of Europe, but from different parts of the world as well.
The conference took place in the Waterfront Belfast, which was voted the second best conference centre in the world in the Apex Awards in 2002.
Out of the plenary session speeches, I found the presentations under the topic ’Working in Southeast Asia: EAZA members building on the legacy of the Southeast Asia campaign’ really interesting. The first speech was about Chester Zoo’s new Islands exhibit of conservation activities in range countries, followed by ’EAZA member support towards saving critically endangered species in Southeast Asia’; ’Action Indonesia – Developing the global species management plan (GSMPS) for Anoa, Banteng and Babirusa’; ’25 years of the Bali starling EEP – Safe in zoos and safe in the wild?’ and ’Protecting the seldom seen Asian unicorn – An update on Saola conservation work in Laos and Vietnam’.
Some really useful and practical new documents were also exhibited on the conference: EAZA Best Practice Guidelines are produced by the various TAGs to merge expert husbandry knowledge and make it widely available within and outside the borders of the EAZA community. Since last September, six additional EAZA Best Practice Guidelines were shown, so currently ten husbandries are available for the following species and taxa: Midwife toads (Alytes sp.), Lake Oku frog (Xenopus longipes), Sardinian brook salamander (Euproctus platycephalus), Ecuadorian Amazon parrot (Amazona lilacina), Red crested turaco (Tauraco erythrolophus), Callitrichids (Callitrichidae), Red panda (Ailurus fulgens), European otter (Lutra lutra), Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis).
EAZA presently has two different levels of breeding programmes, the European Endangered species Programme (EEP) and the European Studbook (ESB). As of September 2016, the association has had 402 EAZA breeding programmes (203 EEPs and 199 ESBs) that are overseen by 39 EAZA Taxon Advisory Groups. Out of those 402 programmes, 74 per cent of the EEP species and 45 per cent of the ESB species are threatened by extinction (Vulnerable/VU, Endangered/EN, Critically Endangered/CR) according to the IUCN (2016).
A new structure for breeding programmes was presented at one of the plenary sessions as well. The Taxon Advisory Groups and EEPs have been hard at work over the past year designing a new structure for the EEP and ESB programmes. Based on the realisation that each species and their breeding programmes need an individually tailored approach, the new structure will be a revolution in the way European zoos maintain sustainable populations in their collections.
The future EAZA breeding programmes can be defined as ‘population management activities that are endorsed by EAZA for species that are held in EAZA collections aiming towards (maintaining) healthy populations of healthy animals within EAZA or beyond’. The proposed new single term for all programmes would be: EAZA Ex situ Programme (EEP).
Furthermore, one of the association’s most exciting initiatives in 2016 is the development of a centrally organised Biobank service for the European zoo and aquarium community. The aim of the EAZA Biobank is to establish a primary repository for biological samples from animals in the EAZA management programmes, which can be used for guiding the population management through genetics and for conservation-relevant research. Initially, the EAZA Biobank will consist of three Biobank hubs, hosted and held by Antwerp Zoo, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS Edinburgh Zoo) and Copenhagen Zoo. Each of these institutions has adequate facilities and expert staff available and will provide funding, facilities and staff-time to keep, curate and register samples of all individuals sampled in EAZA programmes.
First and last, my opinion is that the conference proved to be a very fruitful meeting with many useful discussions and presentations. A huge amount of EAZA business was conducted and many activities of the association’s focus areas for the next year were well established.
Last but not least let me write a few words about Belfast Zoo, which is accredited by various organizations like the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA), the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). Belfast Zoological Gardens (also known as Bellevue Zoo) opened its doors in 1934 and the park is one of the top tourist attractions in Northern Ireland, receiving more than 300,000 visitors a year. Located in north Belfast, the institution’s 22 hectare (55 acre) site is home to more than 1,200 animals belonging to 150 species. Most of these species – more than 90 – are kept in EEP or ESB programmes. The breeding and studbook programmes for the François langur (Trachypithecus francoisi, EEP), the Eastern black-and-white Colobus (Colobus guereza, ESB), and the Marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna, ESB) are coordinated by members of the Belfast Zoo team. The collection of primates is well worth seeing due to several rarely exhibited species like Crowned sifaka (Propithecus coronatus), Guianan bearded saki (Chiropotes sagulatus) François langur and Javan gibbon (Hylobates moloch), but species from other taxa like Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus goodfellowi buergersi), Spot-necked otter (Hydrictis maculicollis) and Temminck’s golden cat (Catopuma temminckii temminckii) are also curiosities.
ZOOQUARIA, Quarterly publication of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, Issue 93-94., Amsterdam, The Netherlands.