EAZA’s collection coordination activities
Bart Hiddinga, Head Collection Coordination and Conservation,
EAZA Executive Office
The animals are of course the absolute key factor in each zoo or aquarium. Modern and wellmanaged
zoos and aquaria select the species which they keep very carefully and for specific
reasons. The days that a zoo’s animal collection solely reflected the personal interest of the
director or another member of staff are definitely over. This paper describes how EAZA zoos
and aquaria collectively manage their animals.
The zoos that are a member of EAZA have established so-called Taxon Advisory Groups
(TAGs) for all the different species of animals that are kept in zoos and aquaria.
One of the main tasks of the TAGs is to develop Regional Collection Plans that describe which
species are recommended to be kept in EAZA zoos and aquaria, why we want to keep these
species, and how we manage them. The Regional Collection Plans also identify which species
need to be managed in European breeding programmes.
Taxon Advisory Groups
For all the animal groups that are kept in EAZA zoos and aquaria, so-called Taxon Advisory
Groups (TAGs) have been established. Each TAG focusses on a specific group of animals,
such as penguins, bears, hornbills, cats or antelope.
Who are in these TAGs?
Members of a TAG are professional zoo and aquairum people who work in EAZA institutions
and have specialist knowledge and a keen interest in the group of species covered by the
specific TAG of which they are a member. People who work at universities or for international
conservation organisations act as advisors to the TAG on issues such as nutrition, health and
What does a TAG do?
A main task of each TAG is to develop a Regional Collection Plan, to decide which species of
animals EAZA zoos and aquaria wish to keep in the future, why we want to keep those and
not other species, and how we will manage their captive populations.
Another, increasingly important task of the EAZA TAGs is to stimulate and coordinate in situ
conservation projects. More and more, zoos and aquaria are actively involved in saving species
in the wild, often using the animals in zoos and aquaria as ambassadors for their wild
Also, TAGs are responsible for the exchange of information on how zoos and aquaria should
best take care of the animals. Such information is collected by the TAG and put together in
husbandry and management guidelines, which cover all kinds of topics from housing, nutrition
to behavioural enrichment. If certain areas of a species husbandry are not yet sufficiently
known, the TAG will make sure that research is initiated to fill the gaps in our knowledge.
Regional Collection Plans
Modern zoos have four main aims, which have been laid down in the World Zoo Conservation
Strategy. These aims are:
To meet these aims zoos rely on the animal populations that they keep. Since zoos wish to
refrain from having to bring in animals from the wild on a regular basis, it is important that
zoos maintain healthy and self-sustaining populations of animals. This means that zoos need to
have, between them, populations of many species that are large enough to prevent inbreeding,
On the other hand, resources are always at a premium. Especially space for holding species and
people who can manage populations at the EAZA level are limited. Therefore, EAZA zoos are
making very careful choices about which species we wish to keep and which ones not.
How do EAZA zoos make such choices? The TAG, which is responsible for this process of
regional collection planning, will look at many issues. These will include:
- How much space do we have?
The number of suitable enclosures that EAZA zoos have among them will dictate the number
of animals and species that we can keep successfully long-term.
- The status in the wild of the species.
Is it a species that is threatened in the wild, and if so, can zoos make a contribution to its
survival? In that case we may choose to keep this species instead of a non-threatened species.
- Recommendation from conservation bodies.
For some species IUCN/SSC Specialist Groups have indicated that captive breeding is required
to ensure its survival. In such cases, and if EAZA zoos have the space and experience required,
the TAG will make a strong recommendation to include the relevant species in the EAZA
Regional Collection Plan.
- The educational value of the species.
Is there an interesting story that can be told about this species? If a species has special features
about which a zoo can tell a story to its visitors, the TAG may propose to keep this species
instead of a less interesting species.
- Husbandry expertise.
Have zoos successfully kept and bred this species? If not, we will first have to learn more
about the species before we can consider keeping it. Sometimes the TAG may decide to work
with a closely related, non-threatened species first, before we decide to keep a threatened
species in our zoos.
- What are other zoo regions doing?
If a successful captive breeding programme is already functioning in another part of the world,
and there is no need for expanding the population of that species, there is little point in EAZA
zoos keeping that species too. We can then use our resource for another species.
All the above issues are taken into consideration. In the resulting regional collection plan each
TAG recommends which species EAZA zoos should be keeping, how we should manage them
(e.g. an EEP should be established for a species), if there is specific research that needs to be
carried out to learn more about the species and so on. The regional collection plan also
identifies the species which EAZA zoos should (preferably) not be keeping, as these animals
would use important space and other resources that are needed for those species that have
been recommended in the plan. For instance, leopard species that are of unknown origin,
hybrids or of subspecies for which EAZA does not have a breeding programme, will take up
space that is much needed for those leopard subspecies for which EEP programmes have been
established. EAZA zoos are therefore urged to no longer breed with those non-recommended
leopards and if possible make that space available to a recommended sub-species.
Regional collection plans are living documents that need to be updated every few years, as
circumstances, especially with regard to the status in the wild of a species, may change.
EAZA presently has two different levels of breeding programme:
- EEP: European Endangered species Programme
- ESB: European StudBook
The regional collection plans of the TAGs identify which type of programme has been assigned
to which species of animal.
The EEP is the most intensive type of population management for a species kept in EAZA
zoos. Each EEP has a coordinator (someone with a special interest in and knowledge of the
species concerned, who is working in an EAZA zoo or aquarium). He or she is assisted by a
Species Committee. The coordinator has many tasks to fulfill, such as collecting information on
the status of all the animals of the species for which he or she is responsible kept in EAZA
zoos and aquaria, producing a studbook, carrying out demographical and genetical analyses,
and producing a plan for the future management of the species. Together with the Species
Committee, recommendations are made each year on which animals should breed or not breed,
which animals should go from one zoo to another, and so on. This is much work, and EAZA is
fortunate that so many people in so many EAZA zoos have taken on such a complicated task.
On 1 January 2003 EAZA maintained 142 EEPs.
The ESB is less intensive than the EEP programme. The studbook keeper who is responsible
for a certain ESB collects all the data on births, deaths, transfers etc. from all the EAZA zoos
that keep the species in question. These data are entered in special computer software
programmes, which allows the studbook keeper to carry out analyses of the population of that
species. EAZA zoos may ask the studbook keepers for recommendations on breeding or
transfers. By collecting and analysing all the relevant information on the species, the studbook
keeper can judge if it is doing well in EAZA zoos, or if maybe a more rigid management is
needed to maintain a healthy population over the long term. In that case, the studbook keeper
may propose that the species be managed as an EEP programme. On 1 January 2003 EAZA
maintained 107 ESBs.