RHCRU finds more Inspiration for Conservation at ZACC

At the end of January, several RHCRU representatives had the opportunity to attend ZACC, the Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation Conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The intent of the gathering was to inspire, connect, and act, which accentuated the ZACC mission statement to promote collaboration between zoos and aquariums and local, national, and international field conservation efforts. Each day was filled with engaging presentations, celebrating not only the successes of individual conservation programs, but also highlighting the impact of partnerships between zoos, aquariums, and field researchers. More importantly, the presenters offered resources and advice for attending organizations to set up similar partnerships, educational programs, and conservation projects. One of the most intriguing aspects of the presentations was their focus on lesser known or popular endangered species, such as the slow loris, tapir, Hirola (Hunter’s Hartebeest) and Azuay stubfoot toad. The conference also included a visit to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, arguably the most memorable activity. Conference attendees were invited not only to stroll the grounds, but to also take part in behind-the-scenes tours. These unique experiences allowed conference goers to observe training sessions for various species, gain knowledge of the zoo’s impressive gardens, learn about enclosure construction and enrichment, and participate in panel discussions on important conservation efforts. During this time, several RHCRU members watched the Jacksonville handlers work with their African elephants. Like our RHCRU elephants, the zoo animals are trained to lift their feet onto stools for foot care and present handlers with various body parts for inspection or veterinary care (ie. ears, teeth, or feet). Such behaviors are vital to ensuring the health needs of the animals are met and also offer an excellent enrichment opportunity for them. After watching the session, RHCRU Director Sean was impressed, commenting on the professionalism, calmness, and responsiveness of the handlers and animals, traits which are also at the core of RHCRU’s training program. The zoo visit ended with a poster display session, at which Sean and Elizabeth Berkeley presented RHCRU’s many research initiatives and networked with potential collaborators. Overall, the week was insightful and thought-provoking. “For me, it was a mind-blowing experience to see a whole bunch of zoos, facilities, and organizations from around the world coming together to do something for conservation. While some of the statistics were disheartening, they also invigorated a sense of action to those attending, especially because so many large organizations were offering their help to the smaller non-profits, who often work quietly out of the public eye” reflected Sean. At the end of the conference, the entire group felt inspired by the powerful messages heard throughout the week and excited for the potential opportunities arising from RHCRU’s attendance.

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