Thursday, 3 September 2009

Research colloquium

Each month Bristol Zoo invites a speaker to present a talk on various research projects of interest to zoo staff and students. Yesterday the talk was from Dr Vincent Nijman, of Oxford Brookes University, on “Welfare Atrocities: Keeping conditions of captive primates in Indonesia”. As you might guess from the title, it made for a pretty shocking evening.

The basic issue is that the attitude to wildlife in Indonesia can best be described as medieval. Animals are simply commodities, and concern for their welfare, except at one or two places, is basically nonexistent. If an animal dies it is simply replaced, usually by one bought from the local market. The talk focussed on gibbons, but by all accounts other taxa are treated no better. The typical cage is only one or two cubic metres, with no interior furniture or frequently any cover from the sun. Feeding is usually inadequate, and often provided by members of the public buying sweets, sugar cane, or other inadequate foods from stalls in the grounds. Water is often polluted, where it is present at all.

What is particularly distressing is that the vast amount of animal suffering could be avoided by only a few simple measures. Simply cleaning the cages would be a start (many are only cleaned when the animal dies and is thrown out), and provision of ropes, branches, or just better food would be a big start. Both food and labour are cheap, so cost is not really a factor.

The general tenor of the lecture was that some of the best help western zoos could give would be simple information and advice. I have to say that Bristol is ahead of the game hear Рvia our links to Ape Action Africa and Yaound̩ Zoo in Cameroon we are providing training to zoo staff and local education outreach to schoolchildren, but plainly there is far more to be done everywhere.

One of the more overlooked elements in conservation education is the total lack of contact with nature amongst the poor of the developing world, and the inevitable lack of interest. If you are living in a slum – and with the urbanization of the last 50 years that is where vast numbers of people in the developing world live – then even learning what is living in your own country is not going to be at all easy. I would expect that more people in London have seen a lion or giraffe than citizens of Nairobi have for example.

I would be interested if any readers could let me know what their local zoo does about education overseas – do they have any partner zoos abroad for example?

On another note, the colloquia I mentioned above are open to the public. The programme for the rest of the year runs as follows:

7th October: Summer and Winter vitamin D3 levels in platyrrhines and lemurs housed at Bristol Zoo with outdoor access

4th November: Effects of habitat alteration on the ecology and behaviour of Sahamalaza Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur sahamalazensis)

3rd December: Nutrition research at Paignton Zoo: Myth and reality in the kitchen

Finally, there is an important symposium coming up on Thursday 29th October - following our 2008 symposium on evidence-based conservation, the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation has for this year’s symposium invited primatologists, both from the in situ (field) and ex situ (zoo) sector, to discuss success stories and challenges in primate conservation programmes. We aim to bring together evidence on how well we are doing to date in saving primates from extinction, and to suggest ways forward to ensure the survival of our closest relatives beyond the 21st century. Special emphasis will be given to the role of zoos in primate conservation.Invited speakers include:

· Prof. John F. Oates
· Ian Redmond OBE
· Dr Anthony Rylands
· Dr Anna Nekaris
· Dr Jean-Marc Lernould

The one-day symposium will be held in the Clifton Pavilion at Bristol Zoo Gardens, starting at 10.00 am and finishing at 5.30 pm. Registration fees are £75 per person and include a buffet-style lunch as well as coffee/tea breaks between the sessions and entry to Bristol Zoo Gardens. Registration forms are available from the Bristol Zoo website.

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