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Conservation “Oscars” for New Zealand

31 March 2004

Conservation “Oscars” for New Zealand

Auckland Zoo received two prestigious awards for its contribution to native fauna conservation at the recent annual conference of the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA).

The awards were in recognition of the zoo’s achievements in supporting the conservation of New Zealand’s native species through breeding and research.

The zoo’s Senior Veterinarian, Dr Richard Jakob-Hoff, who accepted the award for outstanding scientific research, said: “In the zoo world this is like getting an Oscar – I’m thrilled! This is recognition by our industry peers for over 14 years’ work collaborating with more than 60 individuals and 30 organisations around the world.”

The zoo’s veterinary team, led by Dr Jakob-Hoff, has for the first time established some baseline information on the diseases present in New Zealand’s wildlife and the characteristics used to assess the health of a range of threatened native species.

“All people and all animals carry some bacteria and viruses that under the right conditions can be harmful”, Dr Jakob-Hoff explained. “The information we’ve collected gives us a starting point – a baseline – to understand which disease organisms are a serious threat to native species and which are just part of the background ‘noise’ and can be disregarded.”

The zoo was also honoured with an award for its ground-breaking work for kiwi conservation. Andrew Nelson, Team Leader of the zoo’s Native Fauna Section, was delighted. “The zoo has now released 109 kiwi chicks into Northland for the Bank of New Zealand Kiwi Recovery Programme, ‘Operation Nest Egg’, an invaluable joint initiative between the Department of Conservation and the Bank of New Zealand,” he said.

“Over 95 per cent of kiwi chicks are killed by stoats and other predators during their first six months of life,” said Mr Nelson. “Through this programme we’ve been able to give them a head-start, and they’ve shown to have a very high survival rate when released.”

In response to growing demands for its specialised veterinary expertise in the wildlife field, Auckland Zoo is aiming to raise $3.6 million to replace its existing animal hospital with a Wildlife Health and Research Centre by June 2006. The new centre will include a modern animal hospital with extra facilities for research and teaching. For the first time, visitors to the zoo will also be able to view the work of the zoo vets – a strictly behind the scenes activity at present.

“People find our work with animals fascinating and we are keen to share that with them as much as possible” Dr Jakob-Hoff said. “Diseases like SARS and Bird Flu have recently highlighted the importance of monitoring diseases in wildlife and, through this centre, we can play a useful role in raising public awareness of these issues.”

“As a conservation organisation, Auckland Zoo plays a very active role in supporting the survival of animals in the wild, in New Zealand and overseas,” says Glen Holland, Auckland Zoo Director. “Our veterinarians are regularly consulted by overseas agencies and conservation groups, because the work they do here with native species is of direct relevance to species world-wide”.


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