Tips for Directors
Part 1: Opportunities for Professional Development and Collaboration
All members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums community have made a commitment to the care and welfare of animals. Part of this commitment is striving to maintain sustainable populations among our facilities. Without animals in our care, we would not be able to achieve our missions of engaging or educating the public, contributing to research and conservation, or making advances in the field of animal care and welfare.
As the Animal Population Management (APM) Committee is working diligently to develop a new cooperative population management system among the Association, we would like to share several actions directors can take to increase their facility’s impact in building sustainable populations of animals for the future of our zoos and aquariums.
Part 1 of this two-part series offers suggestions for increased opportunity for professional development and institutional collaboration to help improve sustainability of animal populations. These are direct actions that you can take now to pursue this common goal and keep each other accountable.
- Invite curators from other facilities to visit your facility and look for areas where you could have a larger footprint in population sustainability. Curators often differ from one another in their assessments of what can be done with existing resources, so an outside perspective may help determine positive adjustments for resource allocations. Similarly, talk to fellow directors who are stepping up their involvement in propagation.
- Review all internal policies related to animal acquisition, disposition, and management through a population sustainability lens. Ask whether these policies promote population sustainability or challenge it. Challenge dogma about why you will or will not do certain things. Your policies may hinder your ability to have animals for certain exhibits in the future.
- Request that your curators read “Sustainability Index (S-Index): a tool for use in the evaluation and planning of institutional animal collections” and charge them with calculating those metrics for your facility. Afterwards, plan a discussion with your curatorial team to identify your facility’s collection strengths or where you may need to commit additional resources. AZA staff can assist you—please reach out to them.
- Commit the resources necessary for your animal care staff to become proficient in advanced husbandry topics beyond enrichment and training (e.g., learning to rear birds, amphibian propagation, complicated life support systems, or managing “difficult” species). Skills in advanced husbandry are decreasing quickly in the zoo and aquarium profession as more facilities manage staff to be generalists rather than specialists and many have reduced their commitment to large-scale propagation. Send your staff to workshops, conferences, or other facilities where they will learn how to turn population management challenges into successes.
Dr. David Powell is the director of research at the Saint Louis Zoo; the director of the AZA Reproductive Management Center; and vice chair of the AZA Animal Population Management Committee.
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