Highland Wildlife Blog – What is a BIAZA?
June 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park
BIAZA stands for British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and I have just returned from the association’s annual conference. The association will be 50 years old next year and this recent conference aptly demonstrated how far the legitimate zoo community has come. The conference was hosted by Woburn Safari Park which is within the beautiful grounds of the Duke of Bedford’s estate, and the theme of the conference was , “The Crucial Nature of Zoo and Aquarium Conservation: Is your collection a conservation tool?” The host location was very apt, given the theme of the meeting, as it was the 11th Duke of Bedford who single-handedly saved the Pere David’s deer from extinction. By the 19th century, this large species of deer only existed within the walled gardens of the Emperor’s palace in Beijing. A handful of animals were exported to a few European capital city zoos towards the end of the 1800s, which was just as well as the Chinese herd was wiped out by a flood and starving peasants just after the Boxer Rebellion. The Duke collected surplus deer from the European zoos, whose little groups also all died out, and the last herd was the one at Woburn.
The saving of the Pere David’s deer is one of the classic captive conservation success stories, which is mirrored by the similar histories of the European bison and the Przewalski’s wild horse, two species we manage at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, as the zoo community also snatched a victory from the jaws of extinction with them. Now of course good zoos are more than just breeders of threatened species and our place within the wider conservation community continues to expand. In recognition of our role as conservation funders, educators and centres with unique skills sets, some of the key speakers at the recent conference came from outside of the zoo community, notably Dr Simon Stuart, the chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, the most important organisation within the international conservation community. In recent years, Simon has actively formed alliances with key regional zoo associations as he recognised that we have an increasingly important role to play and as the wild becomes a smaller and more intensively managed place, we bring the skills and experience of managing small enclosed populations of animals.
As for the Park’s role in the conference, I gave a talk on how zoos can more accurately measure the conservation value of their animal collections and suggested that more could be done by challenging the assembled membership to increase the percentage of threatened species they manage. I am pleased to report that quite a number of key players appeared keen to rise to the challenge.
The conference’s final dinner is also when the various annual awards are given out and I am very proud to say that the Park won a silver award in the Animal Breeding, Care and Welfare category for our advances in moose husbandry, a notoriously difficult species.
This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald