Aviculture: Zoological and Private Let's Get Together


Everyone knows the troubles that the natural world faces, habitat loss being one of the most serious. Understanding what we have lost, the reasons why and what we can do to preserve what remains is the goal of both serious private aviculturists and zoological institutions around the globe. Unfortunately, at this time there is not enough interaction and sharing of information and expertise between private aviculturists and zoological institutions. Pooling our knowledge and resources may lessen the distance to our goals. At a recent American Zoo and Aquarium Association CAZA) Regional Conference in Oklahoma City, the Avian Interest Group (AIG) met to discuss many topics concerning aviculture and zoos. A committee was formed that charged itself with the task of improving the relationship between zoos and the serious aviculturists. The AIG Liaison Committee (is this a reasonable title or should we find another?) is composed of the Committee Chair, Forrest Penny (Iacksonville Zoological Gardens, Florida), Laurella. Desboraugh (American Federation of Aviculture), Natasha Schischailin (Houston Zoo, Texas), Susan Healy (Sacramento Zoo, California), Mark S. Myers (Audubon Zoo, Louisiana), Ted Fox (Burnet Park Zoo, New York) and Steven Sarro (Baltimore Zoo, Maryland). Our committee decided that our first project in trying to help bridge the gap between these groups would be to provide some background on the programs with which the AZA is presently involved.

The AZA, along with zoos and aquariums, has focused much of

its attention on habitat conservation and the enhancement of genetic diversity through careful husbandry. This article will speak to the latter, as this is the area that has the most interest and impact for the private aviculturist.

To begin with, the International Species Information System (ISIS) is a program created to assist zoos by providing an up-to-date inventory of all mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians in all institutions that are part of the ISIS network. If Zoo A needs a female Wattled Crane, the ISIS Inventory will provide a listing of all institutions that have Wattled Cranes. With this listing, Zoo A can determine where potential female Wattled Cranes are located.

But this is just a starting place for Zoo A. Many species are participants in a Studbook. Studbooks and their keepers utilize a program called the Single Population Analysis and Records Keeping System (SP ARKS) which keeps the recorded historic data of all individuals of a given species. Programs included in SPARKS perform genetic analyses and determine the demographics (i.e., size, growth, density and distribution) of a species population. A Studbook can be of regional scope (i.e., North America) or of international scope (i.e., global), with the progression of regional studbooks to the international level if the need arises. In the Studbook, every individual, its progeny and its ancestors are recorded so that the relatedness of any individual to the entire captive population can be evaluated. This is vitally important as Zoo A, in this example, would like to pair its male


Wattled Crane with the most desirable genetic match. The Studbook is a valuable tool that collection managers can utilize to help bring potential mates together. Studbooks are not necessarily limited to zoo personne 1. There are studbooks and studbook keepers in private avic ult u re. There is plenty to accomplish and all help is welcome.

Zoo A can go a step further and contact the Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinator. The SSP manages the species as one flock and zoos and private aviculturists may participate voluntarily in the SSP. For the aviculturist, being part of an SSP program team helps to bridge gaps as well as helping the species' survival. Not all Studbook species have an SSP. The SSP coordinator is an expert on the species. The SSP coordinator makes breeding recommendations, which are approved by a propagation group, based on information gleaned from the Studbook as well as utilizing the expertise and general recommendations of the Taxon Advisory Group (TAG).

A TAG is a group of animal management professionals that have a vested interest in the propagation of a certain group of animals. All Studbook keepers and SSP coordinators are TAG members. There are many TAGS some of which are the Gruiformes TAG (Cranes, Bustards), the Raptor TAG (Birds of Prey), Anseriformes TAG (Waterfowl) and Columbiformes TAG (Pigeons, Doves), to name a few. There are also mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish and invertebrate TAGS. TAGs discuss many issues that impact the conservation of target species such as available zoo space, inbreeding and kinship considerations, and management and husbandry guidelines. In short, TAGs are "think tanks" where decisions are made and guidelines created that will impact the captive management of many species in the future.

To pair the Wattled Crane with the best genetic mate, Zoo A would accept the advise of the SSP coordinator.