International Conservation Extension: How the Rubber Chicken Circuit, Training Visiting Professionals, and Performing Workshops Abroad Can Help Rob Peter to Pay Paul
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2002
Roberto F. Aguilar1, DVM; Christian Walzer2, Dr. Med. Vet.
1Audubon Nature Institute and Zoo Conservation Outreach Group, New Orleans, LA, USA; 2Zoo Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria


International zoo-based conservation programs frequently lack economic, logistic, or material support, although most zoos seem interested in establishing or developing extension programs abroad. Receiving and training foreign zoo professionals, lecturing abroad, offering international workshops in zoological medicine and captive animal management, or becoming involved in international in situ projects are strategies practiced by many institutions. These techniques are often viewed as ineffective, or of little conservation value. Zoos can actively participate in international wildlife projects by becoming aggressively involved in the training and formation of the staff involved in animal care and study in their countries of origin.

Assuming access to the public domain, a lecture series abroad can be self-sustaining, as well as providing an excellent platform for program candidate selection. A “ripple effect” of increased shared experience and knowledge helps create a web of professionals with similar interests and eases the flow of information to areas where it is most needed. When this access is lacking, technologically simpler methods—a person to person network—enabling the flow of information, needs to be developed.


“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Mark Twain (1835–1910)

In the last decade, zoos all over the world have become increasingly preoccupied and involved in international field conservation efforts. Cognizant of the fact that they run into fear of “research and conservation colonialism,” more and more institutions are actively involving and training nationals from host countries. On the one hand, education programs need to form an integral aspect of all in situ programs and on the other, research associated with in situ projects need to directly benefit the surrounding communities.3,6

Many zoos receive and train visiting foreign professionals, while others have established traveling training programs, and varied staff involved in multiple international projects. Several institutions chose to lend their support to broad coalitions or umbrella groups dedicated to regional zoo-based conservation efforts, such as the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group ( or Quantum Conservation ( Others have established exchange or technical support programs in the context of “sister zoo” program cooperation. Institutions involved in long-term conservation commitments in developing countries have attempted to involve local professionals and establish in-country training programs.8 Though many of these ventures are very recent and therefore difficult to evaluate presently, there is reason to fear that they lack the financial or logistic support and in the long run are not self-sustaining. Many programs are regarded as potentially obtrusive, complicated, ineffective, and costly by the host institution.


As recently pointed out, veterinarians must make a conscious effort to transmit as much information as possible to the public domain.7 The use of the Internet has dramatically improved the transfer of information and training through well-coordinated programs of translated materials and regional workshops. Important printed resources, including The Handbook of Nutrition and Diets for Wild Animals in Captivity (Dierenfeld and Graffam, ZCOG publication, 1996), the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Minimum Standard Guidelines for Mammals (AZA publication, 1997), and entire chapters from basic texts 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 ( provides access to translated information resources. Important regional training workshops in veterinary medicine, nutrition, and animal husbandry have been held in Spain, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, and 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. Increased equipment and material donations have complemented the dissemination of veterinary training, environmental education, and animal husbandry information. Effective information and technology transfer have remained the main objective.1 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. This forms, for all intents and purposes, a loose network of zoo professionals with common interests freely sharing information and experiences.2

Whereas systems as those established by ZCOG are proving vastly efficient in generating a free flow of information, they are dependent on the access of the participating individuals to the public domain—this access is determined by language and more and more by access to the Internet. In countries where English, Spanish, French or similar languages are not readily spoken, severe problems arise at the onset of establishing a training program or research cooperation. Educational and training programs integrated in the context of the Przewalski horse reintroduction to SW Mongolia ( have initially been marred by the predominant Mongolian language. Furthermore, the remoteness of the research site made the installation of a satellite communications system necessary in order to provide the minimum in correspondence and educational support. Training needs to be viewed as an especially long-term commitment under these conditions in order to enable some form of self-sustainability. In this case, together with the National University of Ulaan Bataar  , two individuals where initially chosen for training. A Mongolian MSc. program provides the framework and is heavily supplemented with language, computer, and driving skills.


In areas with access to the public domain, 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.5 Numerous clinicians, institutions, and individuals with access to the Internet have benefited from information made available to them. At present, ZCOG’s veterinary committee acts on an average of 30 email requests per week. To date, information made available to skilled zoo clinicians in Latin America has led to many minor, and some spectacular and major, successes. 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. In at least two cases, trainees have gone on to participate actively in new zoo design in their country of origin. One of the program’s successful graduates now directs veterinary care and research at four large zoos and an aquarium. Publications by successful graduates of these programs are also becoming more frequent in refereed journals.4

In Mongolia, after 3 yr, both students are in the process of completing their MSc. Thanks to the acquired language, research, computer and communication skills, both individuals are the pillars on which further training will take place. Both trainees are now in the position to further train younger Mongolian students. One will receive additional university training in Europe in order to return to Mongolia to complete a doctorate in the context of the Przewalski reintroduction program, and therefore provide an even higher training potential for Mongolia. Both individuals have additionally been integrated in training the local national park rangers basic monitoring skills (e.g., map reading, GPS, transects, etc.). In turn, the rangers’ future responsibility will include propagating conservation outreach and partnership programs within the local community adjoining the national park.


At the forefront, effective conservation of valuable or threatened animal resources and their environments necessitates the involvement of the local residents. Veterinarians in international wildlife programs are challenged to captivate the interest and imagination of host country researchers in order to stimulate and engage them in conservation action. The methods used in establishing a training program need to be adapted to the conditions where conservation action is to occur.

In regions with access to the public domain, the provision of educational material, workshops and lecture series will provide the initial impulse to the creation of an effective network. Using the Internet as a backbone, such a multidirectional network can easily disseminate information to a broad basis. With a large enough basis, it will become self-sustaining.

In many conservation hotspots the public domain is not available. Motivation and subsequent training of local researchers entails a “training trainers” approach.9 Initially training involves only a few motivated individuals. Subsequently, these individuals become trainers and in due course will in turn train students. Additionally, through the establishment of a secondary non-scientific network they potentially become ambassadors and advocates for conservation action in their respective communities. However, networks based on few individuals, are especially prone to collapsing when one key individual, due to his training, moves on to another area. Sustainability of these fragile networks requires an especially serious long-term commitment to each and every individual involved.


Yes, we should train other professionals. No, it is not easy, nor is it cheap; and yes, there are ways to do it.

Literature Cited

1.  Aguilar, R.F. and S.K. Mikota. 1996. To reach beyond: a North American perspective on conservation outreach. J. Zoo Wildl. Med. 27:301–302.

2.  Aguilar, R.F., D. Hilliard, M.E. Martínez, E. Dierenfeld, and M. Garner. 2000. Veterinary outreach: coordinating technology transfer and professional training programs in Latin America. 2000 Proceedings of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. New Orleans, LA. September 17–21. Pp. 407–411.

3.  Brewer, C. 2002.Outreach and partnership programs for conservation education where endangered species conservation and research occur. Conservation Biology. 16:4–6.

4.  Galka, M. et al. 1999. Alpha-2 agonist dissociative anesthetic combinations in fallow deer (Cervus dama). J. Zoo. Wildl. Med. 30:451–453.

5.  Hilliard, Daniel. 1997. The Zoo Conservation Outreach Group: linking zoo-based conservation efforts throughout the Americas. EAZA News. Pp. 20–22.

6.  Lewis, D., GB Kaweche and A Mwenya. 1990. Wildlife conservation outside protected areas: lessons from an experiment in Zambia. Conservation Biology. 4:171–180.

7.  Mainka, S.A. 2001. The veterinarians’s role in biodiversity conservation. J. Zoo Wild. Med. 32:165–167.

8.  Walzer, C., Baumgartner, R., Robert, N., Suchebaatar, Z. and Bajalagmaa, N. 2000. Medical aspects in Przewalski Horse (Equus przewalskii) reintroduction to the Dzungurian Gobi, Mongolia. Proc. AAZV and IAAAM Joint Conf. New Orleans, Louisiana pp. 17–21.

9.  Wasser, S.K. 1995. Training trainer in wildlife veterinary medicine.1995 Proceedings Joint Conference AAZV; WDA and AAWV, East Lansing, MI. August 12–17 Pp. 491.


Speaker Information
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Roberto F. Aguilar, DVM
Audubon Nature Institute
Zoo Conservation Outreach Group
New Orleans, LA, USA

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