Enhancing Collaboration: Insights from the 5th Joint TAG Chairs Meeting

Posted: 15 May 2024

From the 8-9 May, the 5th Joint Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Chairs Meeting brought together zoo and aquarium colleagues from around the world, providing a platform to strengthen connections and discuss key topics, innovative ideas and the opportunities to strengthen our community by working collaboratively. For the two days of conference, a total of 126 passionate leaders from 26 different countries/regions assembled in Scotland, hosted by Edinburgh Zoo home of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). Delegates participated in a variety of talks ranging from integrated population management and RZSS’s approach to combining ex situ and in situ conservation efforts in Scotland, to WAZA’s new ambitious 2027 Population Management Goal and the potential for zoos and aquariums to contribute to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Global Biodiversity Framework and many other topics. 

The WAZA CPM mid-year meeting 

Ahead of the 5th Joint TAG Chairs Meeting, the WAZA Committee for Population Management (CPM) held its mid-year meeting. Chaired by David Field from the RZSS, with Candice Dorsey (AZA) and James Biggs (ZAA) as vice chairs, the committee reviewed progress towards its workplan, which includes ambitious tasks, such as the review of the International Studbook (ISB) and Global Species Management Plan (GSMP) frameworks. The other main task of the CPM is the development and implementation of the WAZA 2027 Population Management Goal (27PMG), a goal that will see WAZA regional associations develop population management frameworks that include the elements defined for professional and effective regional population management. The committee’s work on the 27PMG will be launched in November 2024 at the 79th WAZA Annual Conference in Sydney, hosted by Taronga Zoo 

David Field, WAZA CPM Chair and WAZA Vice President, said: 

“It is exciting to work with CPM towards the implementation of a new goal that will not only strengthen regional population management globally but also strengthen WAZA towards being a trusted leader in conservation.”  

A peek into two days of Joint Tag Chairs Meeting discussions  

Following two intense days of EAZA TAG meetings and WAZA’s Committee for Population Management mid-year meeting, the Joint Tag Chairs Group (JTAG) meetings were held next with plenty of engaging topics. 

Following their goal to reverse the decline of at least 50 species by 2030, David Barclay and Helen Taylor, members of the RZSS conservation team, opened the conference with an inspiring keynote that provided case studies of their current actions and progress to conserve Scotland’s most threatened species, including the charismatic wild cat and other species with a different charisma, like the pine hoverflies or the medicinal leeches; and highlighted how RZSS is using effective population management and the key role in utilising an integrated approach by combining ex situ and in situ conservation efforts. 

Paula Cerdán, Head of Conservation and Animal Welfare for WAZA, explained the premise of WAZA’s new goal, the WAZA 2027 Population Management Goal, touching on its relevance in supporting regional capacity for professional and efficient population management, as well as supporting the role of zoos and aquariums as a part of a global conservation community and how such goal aligns with WAZA’s new vision to be a globally recognised and trusted leader in advancing conservation and animal welfare. The talk welcomed several regional representatives to share their insights on what this would bring to their region as well as to the global zoo and aquarium community, and attendees engaged in a Q&A on the topic. 

Other sessions held during the first day revolved around using the momentum from events such as this JTAG meeting to strengthen regional and global collaborations, and how we could make use of the global network to optimise our efforts and the way we work together. Within this, an update on the future changes to ISB and GSMP frameworks was presented, with the new frameworks aiming to align more closely with global conservation frameworks such as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the IUCN ex situ guidelines and supporting direct conservation efforts. 

To wrap up the first day, the final topic of discussion centred on the aquarium community and the unique challenges faced regarding species sustainability and the ethical sourcing of animals. In a room where most attendees were based at a zoo, the spotlight shifted to aquarium representatives on stage, who evidenced the importance of collaboration between zoos and aquariums, and the need for joint efforts to address shared concerns and explore different mutually beneficial opportunities to common challenges. 

The second day of the Joint TAG chairs meeting started with a look back in 2022, when the United Nations Biodiversity Conference of the Parties, led to the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Escaping the shadows of the failed Aichi Targets, a session held during JTAG encouraged the meeting participants to explore how to move from Agreement to Action and invited attendees from around the globe to engage in the opportunity to actively contribute to the parties’ efforts to reverse human induced declines in biodiversity and help to set the world on a path towards “Living in harmony with nature”. As James Biggs, from the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia (ZAA) said during his opening talk, “Biodiversity Conservation is a shared responsibility”, and that was clearly highlighted on the following presentations by Kira Mileham, from the IUCN SSC, who also highlighted that “we know how to save species, we need to do more of it, and do it together”. Fiona Sach, from the Zoological Society of London, presented on the Extinct in the Wild Alliance and highlighted the unique role that zoos and aquariums have as custodians of 39 animals currently listed as Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN’s Red List. William van Lint, from EAZA, presented on the Association’s new Acquisition and Disposition policy, and the link that such policy has with the CBD framework.  

The day followed by putting the topic of euthanasia for population management purposes at the centre of discussion.  The session brought communication experts from RZSS and Chester Zoo, joined by the General Curator at Copenhagen Zoo, Mads Frost Bertelsen, and Sant Louis Zoo’s Director of Research, David Powell to share insights on the ethical, scientific, perceptions and communication considerations surrounding this practice and how best to collaboratively work through this topic. The discussion ended up with an engaging panel and Q&A session between speakers and the meeting attendees. Whilst population management euthanasia is a complex topic with significant regional variation and diverse perspectives, it is essential for us as part of a global community to understand these differences and subsequent approaches, and collectively work together towards shared goals and effective communication of this sensitive issue. 

The conference concluded with a session on the importance of mate choice for effective ex situ population management and showcased several case studies from different regions and taxa; this included a discussion on the role zoos and aquariums must play to safeguard the future of species, and the use of biobanking against extinction. Work from different regions was shared alongside a discussion of how TAGs can collaborate to bolster the impact of biotechnology. 

It has been 10 years since the first Joint TAG Chairs Meeting gathered in Alphen ann den Rijn, Netherlands, and these bi-annual meetings, continue to provide opportunities for different regions to share and learn from each other, as well as reinforce connections and explore different ways of working together to strengthen the global zoo and aquarium community.    

The 5th Joint Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Chairs Meeting, hosted by RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, in Scotland, was a testament to the collaborative spirit driving advancements in zoo and aquarium conservation and furthering the WAZA Strategic objectives of transformative leadership and species impact. With colleagues from around the world gathering under the auspices of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the event served as a platform to forge new connections, look into the future by positioning the work of our community into the global conservation community, and chart the course for stronger inter-regional collaboration to optimise zoo and aquarium conservation efforts. 

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, zoos and aquariums, dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world.

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