A recent birth at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Bronx Zoo in New York highlights the high standards of animal husbandry practices at Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited zoos and aquariums.
An okapi was born after a year of careful animal husbandry science by the Zoo’s mammal curators. Curators at the Bronx Zoo have a long history working with okapis with the first one arriving at the zoo in 1937. A breeding program was initiated in 1992 resulting in the birth of 12 calves in the last 20 years. Few zoos have achieved comparable success with this species.
“The Bronx Zoo’s okapi program has been a tremendous success and has helped the Zoo community better understand the reproductive biology of these beautiful creatures,” said Jim Breheny, WCS executive vice president and director of the Bronx Zoo. “Every species has different care requirements and the Bronx Zoo has been a leader in advancing husbandry practices for a number of species including the okapi. The arrival of this okapi calf is the culmination of more than a year’s work by Bronx Zoo mammal curators.”
Prospective okapi pairs are chosen for mating by the AZA Okapi Species Survival Plan® (SSP) program. Pairs are chosen to ensure that genetic diversity in the North American zoo population remains healthy. There are approximately 146 okapi in zoos around the world, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates there are between 10,000 and 35,000 in the wild. This same careful planning, science, and focus on the individual species and the individual animals is repeated for all of the animals being managed by more than 300 AZA SSP programs.
Staffs at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums ensure that the physiological, biological, psychological, and social needs of the animals in their care are addressed by maintaining high quality animal husbandry practices. AZA enforces the adoption of these best practices through accreditation standards, mandatory participation in animal programs like SSPs, and committees and Scientific Advisory Groups (SAGs) that provide tools specific to animal husbandry and welfare.
“Working with the wide range of species at zoos and aquariums around the country requires a great deal of specialized knowledge,” says Dr. Candice Dorsey, AZA’s director of animal conservation. “AZA standards and programs ensure that animals in accredited facilities receive the best possible care and they also facilitate important partnerships between institutions.”
AZA animal-care standards and programs are based on the most current science, practices, and technologies of animal care and management. The bar is continuously being raised as new science, such as that done by the Bronx Zoo with their okapi, is undertaken. All of this science contributes to understanding about both basic animal needs, as well as best practices for animal care, ensuring that AZA-accredited facilities are always putting the welfare of the animals in their care ahead of anything else.