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Directors of the World’s Zoos and Aquariums Meet in Thailand

By: Judy Mann

Last month 250 of the world’s zoo and aquarium directors from 46 countries gathered for the 73rd Conference and Annual General Meeting of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). The conference was held in Bangkok, Thailand and was hosted by Zoological Park Organisation Thailand (ZPO).

Keynote speakers included United Nations Messenger of Peace Dr. Jane Goodall, crane expert Dr. George Archibald, Forest Stewardship Council director Kim Carstensen, and Thai conservationist Prof. Pilai Poonswad. Dr Goodall’s presentation was an honest assessment of zoos – some zoos are excellent and deserve support while some zoos are terrible and should be shut down. It is clear that WAZA is working towards this goal of supporting good zoos and facilitating the closure of zoos that are not primarily concerned with animal welfare.

This leads us to the focus of this year’s conference – Animal Welfare. A wide range of presentations introduced delegates to different facets of this critical but as yet difficult to measure part of our work. Animal welfare means different things to different people and good zoos and aquariums have always provided the animals in their care with the best possible welfare. However, around the world zoos and aquariums are working towards understanding, researching and measuring this fundamental component of our work far better. 

While Animal Welfare occupied centre stage, conservation and sustainability were also discussed and many facilities showed how they were integrating conservation and sustainability into their daily operations. Increasingly zoos and aquariums are functioning as centres for conservation both in the field and in the facility. The natural integration of these aspects of our work will make us stronger role players in the field conservation world. The fact that WAZA has been asked to take the lead in organising a Global Species Congress shows the critical role that the world’s zoos and aquarium play in species conservation.

I was privileged to represent SAAMBR at the conference. Our organisation has been a member of WAZA for over 30 years and has been instrumental in the evolution of the Association. As members we engage with experts in the field from around the world and can not only learn from their collective wisdom, but we can also contribute to decisions of the Association. WAZA is poised for rapid growth over the next few years – they have a new Executive Director, a number of new staff members and have become more central with their offices now in Spain. Their goal is to grow WAZA, so that WAZA can better support the good zoos and aquariums of the world to achieve excellent animal welfare and reach their conservation potential.