Veterinary Outreach: Coordinating Technology Transfer and Professional Training Programs in Latin America
The Zoo Conservation Outreach Group (ZCOG) is a consortium of North American zoos and aquaria dedicated to helping zoos in Latin America through logistic, technical, and economic support. The group also supports zoo-based field and conservation programs. The organization has dramatically increased its activities, and has stepped up its outreach and professional training programs to the entire continent. There are four basic committees in ZCOG: education, conservation, nutrition, and veterinary medicine. The veterinary committee has supported or staged over 18 training courses in the last 7 years. These have benefitted over 1100 professionals from 17 countries. The use of electronic messaging has allowed for active technical support to clinicians in complicated situations where they have needed information or feedback regarding difficult cases. Numerous clinicians, institutions, and individuals with access to the internet have benefitted from information made available to them. At present, the veterinary committee acts on an average of 30 requests per week from all over Latin America.
The Zoo Conservation Outreach Group (ZCOG) is a non-profit consortium of North American zoological institutions, zoo professionals, and corporate partners dedicated to assisting Latin American zoos and aquariums in their regional wildlife and habitat conservation efforts.2-5 Headquartered at the Audubon Zoological Garden in New Orleans, ZCOG actively supports Latin American zoological institutions in their efforts to provide high quality animal care, environmental education, and scientific research that contributes to regional wildlife conservation. The group accomplishes this by pooling technical, material, and financial resources of North American zoos and aquariums and delivering this assistance to colleagues in Mexico, Central America, and South America.
All of ZCOG’s projects and programs are developed in consultation with Latin American zoological institutions in an effort to respond to needs that Latin American professionals have identified as regional conservation priorities.1 These needs range from basic materials such as educational supplies and medical equipment to financial assistance for training workshops, zoo-based animal management programs, and in situ field studies.
The ZCOG sponsors regional training workshops in zoo management, animal husbandry, conservation education, and veterinary care; organizes equipment and material donations; provides training scholarships and travel grants to Latin American zoo professionals; and supports exhibit renovations, zoo-based scientific research, and field studies. North American zoo and aquarium professionals play a major role in these cooperative outreach efforts by providing financial support through annual membership commitments, developing training workshops, overseeing transfers of appropriate information and technology, and acting as program consultants.
Inspired by prospects for involving North American zoos in international conservation efforts, David Anderson, former General Curator of the Audubon Zoological Garden, and representatives from ten zoos in the southeastern United States formed the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group in 1988. Central America was initially chosen as the organization’s focus due to accelerated loss of rainforest habitat in the region. With high annual visitation rates at zoos throughout Central America, ZCOG founders recognized the potential of these institutions to educate, inspire, and involve the public in local conservation efforts. The purpose of the organization was, therefore, to help Mesoamerican countries conserve their habitat and fauna by helping zoos in these countries become model institutions of environmental education and conservation training.2 The ZCOG motto, “Zoos Helping Zoos Save Wildlife,” reflects this approach.
At present, over 50 North American institutions support ZCOG directly, and countless zoo professionals have volunteered their time and expertise to assist programs.
Increased programming has focused on direct funding and technical support in three strategic areas:
1. Information, training, and technology transfer
2. Zoo-based animal management, conservation education, and field research programs
3. Exhibit construction and facilities renovations
The now restructured veterinary, nutrition, and education committees, through the volunteer contributions of Ellen Dierenfeld, Maria Eugenia Martínez, Tania Monreal, Marco Compagnucci, and Maria Sitjar, have dramatically improved the transfer of information and training through a well-coordinated program of translated materials and regional workshops. Important printed resources, including The Handbook of Nutrition and Diets for Wild Animals in Captivity (Dierenfeld, Graffam. ZCOG publication; 1996), the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s (AZA) Minimum Standard Guidelines for Mammals (1997), and the International Species Information System’s Medical Animal Record Keeping System (ISIS-MedARKS; 1999), have been translated into Spanish and are being made available to zoos and aquariums throughout Latin America. A newly developed “Training Library” on ZCOG’s website ([Online]. Available: www.zcog.org) provides access to translated information resources via the internet. Important regional training workshops in veterinary medicine, nutrition, and animal husbandry have been held in locations such as Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid, Spain; Guadalajara, Mexico; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. These workshops, developed at the request of and in coordination with professionals from local universities and the Mexican Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZCARM), have provided training for hundreds of veterinarians, biologists, and keepers working in zoos, aquariums, and wildlife rehabilitation centers throughout Spain and Latin America.
Materials developed for programs in Spain have been utilized as a basis for workshops used in Latin America. The use of formal Castilian Spanish as lingua franca has avoided the confusion created by regional vernacular Spanish. A general keeper manual, for example, was translated from the Audubon Institute’s Keeper Manual into Mexican Spanish, carefully edited and re-written in formal Castilian Spanish, and made available as a basic document for the workshop in Argentina. It is now available from ZCOG’s website library, and can be referred to by any interested person with access to the site. The document can also be used as a template for other institutions or training courses.
Increased equipment and material donations have complimented the dissemination of veterinary training, environmental education, and animal husbandry information. ZCOG-sponsored zoo evaluation teams have likewise been sent to Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua to provide consultation on exhibit renovations, animal management, veterinary care, and education outreach. Direct financial support for conservation education programming and infrastructure improvement has also been established by creating a wildlife endowment fund and a new disaster relief fund, EAZE (Economic Assistance for Zoo Emergencies). Finally, ZCOG’s new status as an official Conservation Partner of the AZA is helping enhance conservation networking among zoos and aquariums throughout the Americas.
Effective information and technology transfer have remained the Veterinary Committee’s main objective. The basic mechanism of technologic and technical information transfer occurs through direct contact with zoo professionals by means of exposure to workshops, lectures, or electronic bulletin boards in specialized websites. Continued technical support and feedback are dependent on an active and aggressive electronic mail network. Consults regarding difficult cases are often referred to well known specialists with expertise in the field. The veterinary committee is, for all intents and purposes, a loose network of zoo professionals with common interests freely sharing information and experiences.
The veterinary committee has supported or staged over 18 training courses in the last 7 years. These have benefitted over 1100 professionals from 17 countries. Courses and lectures have covered amphibian, reptilian, avian, and mammalian disease, medicine, pathology, and surgery. Workshops have covered zoo animal behavior, enrichment, nutrition, avian surgery, pathology, cytology, and necropsy techniques, as well as basic precepts and new protocols for anesthesia. While lectures have been extended to audiences of up to 520 professionals and students, the workshops are usually limited to two groups of 40 or fewer professionals, due to their participatory nature and the lower student to instructor ratio. Lecturers have usually been recognized specialists in their respective fields, and most have belonged to institutions that actively support ZCOG’s activities and programs. Boarded veterinary pathologists, ophthalmologists, radiologists, anesthesiologists, and zoo and wildlife veterinarians all volunteer their time, materials, and experience as part of their activities with the committee. Nutritionists belong to a separate committee, but are also frequently consulted in cases where there is suspicion of poor or inadequate nutrition that may have led to clinical disease. The written materials that are developed for courses, lectures, and workshops, whether in English or Spanish, are being placed in a virtual library in ZCOG’s website. Fast and easy access to materials from past courses allows for serial workshops and accumulative experience by participants. The materials can be referred to as frequently as needed. Another important development was the preparation of a catalogue of programs offered by North American zoos willing to offer short-term practical professional training in zoological medicine to Latin American and Spanish zoo veterinarians. The catalogue is also available in ZCOG’s website library.
The use of electronic messaging has allowed for active support to clinicians in complicated situations where they have needed information or feedback regarding difficult cases. Numerous clinicians, institutions, and individuals with access to the internet have benefitted from information made available to them. At present, the veterinary committee acts an average of 30 requests per week by email. To date, information made available to skilled zoo clinicians in Latin America has led to many minor and some spectacular and major successes. One member of the committee, for example, provided crisis management and care for a hippopotamus in Paraguay, where the staff did not have the technical knowledge or materials to be able to effectively intervene on the animal.
Care has been extended in the transport and transfer of large mammals when entire zoological collections have been moved to improved locales. Successful anesthesia and maxillary surgery in a giraffe, anesthesia and surgery of obese black bears, successful hand raising of spectacled bears, field restraint of common tapirs, swamp deer, and anteaters, as well as numerous field projects involving the tracking of regional fauna, can be counted as some of the program’s successes. Many of the professionals trained in North American clinical programs have returned to participate in or direct important zoo-based field programs. Publications by successful graduates of these programs are also becoming more frequent in refereed journals.
Plans are underway for lectures and workshops in Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Mexico. All have come about at the request of local zoo professionals and/or universities. Preceptorships and professional training visits will absorb 10 interns from four countries. They will receive training in 4 different U.S. zoological institutions.
The success of ZCOG’s Veterinary Committee’s programs is completely dependent on the sustained participation and good will of the committee members. Their most basic interest has always been the welfare of animals maintained in Latin American zoos, and the professionals working with them. This report is a testament to their generous and disinterested professional support.
1. Aguilar RF, Mikota SK. To reach beyond: A North American perspective on conservation outreach. J Zoo Wldl Med. 1996;27:301–302.
2. Anderson D. The next step: zoo conservation outreach group. In: AAZPA Annual Proceedings. 1989:20-23.
3. Hilliard D. The zoo conservation outreach group: linking zoo-based conservation efforts throughout the Americas. EAZA News. 1997:20–22.
4. Hilliard D. The zoo conservation outreach group: linking zoo-based conservation in the Americas. International Zoo News. 1996;43(5):382–385.
5. Skrei S, Calvo L. The zoos of Central America: A survey of their status and needs with recommendations for assistance. Zoo Conservation Outreach Group Publication. 1989.