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.
Animal Program documents are available to view in the Animal Programs Database (login required to view documents).
Review and revise your Institutional Collection Plans (ICPs) to ensure you are looking at how your facility is supporting sustainable populations. Schedule meetings with your curators to review TAG Regional Collection Plans (RCPs) during each summer and winter. Ask yourself and your staff the following questions:
Read the executive summaries printed in each Species Survival Plan® breeding and transfer plan for the species at your facility. These are written especially for directors to give you quick insight into the animal populations you are helping to maintain. Commit to reading at least one summary per week. They are often two pages or less.
When designing an exhibit, do not cut holding space. Lack of space is one of the most significant factors challenging population sustainability. Off exhibit space is often much cheaper to build than on exhibit space. Choose an extra holding space or two instead of a fancy waterfall or exhibit theming. Design and build every enclosure such that you have enough holding space to maintain more than one group of exhibit animals. This ensures that the exhibit won’t be empty for months or even years if its occupants are off-exhibit (due to veterinary procedures, facility transfers, mortality, etc.) and provides much needed space for our SSP programs. Similarly, ask whether your existing facilities could actually accommodate more animals (e.g. could your gazelle herd be a bit larger and still work in the same amount of space?).
Be a land baron. Many facilities are acquiring additional property and it doesn’t have to be a lot or even adjacent to the zoo or aquarium. The additional property may not be where you build animal facilities; building something else there (e.g. warehouse operations) may free up space on the main campus for animals.
If your zoo or aquarium has demonstrated success in breeding a species, consider increasing your capacity to do so by building specialized facilities, or propagating the species in a second area of the facility.
Encourage your veterinarians to conduct reproductive examinations whenever animals are under anesthesia to evaluate whether the animals are reproductively fit. The Reproduction and Endocrinology Scientific Advisory Group can be contacted for advice. Fertility assessment worksheets are also available from the AZA Reproductive Management Center.
Participate in as many requests as you can for your zoo or aquarium to contribute to research projects that seek to improve reproductive success and/or involve collection/banking of biomaterials.
These studies can proceed quickly if there are archived samples already available rather than waiting years for new samples to be collected. Each animal is important in zoo and aquarium studies because the sample sizes are small. It is critical for your facility to contribute to the science behind making more sustainable populations.
Dr. David Powell is the director of research at the Saint Louis Zoo; the director of the AZA Reproductive Management Center; and the vice chair of AZA Animal Population Management Committee.