Join our zoo community

Greetings

Discussion in 'New Member Introductions' started by Zygodactyl, 3 Jun 2016.

  1. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    3 Jun 2016
    Posts:
    151
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    Hello from Austin, Texas by way of rural Western Massachusetts. I don't like using my real name on forums, so you can call me "Zygodactyl," "Zyg," or "Z.".

    I was googling in frustration as to why metropolitan Austin, with a population of 2 million, doesn't have a proper AZA zoo, when Abilene, with a population 1/10th of Austin does, and came across this thread. I realized that this might be a good place for someone like me.

    While there are some animals which are interesting enough to see multiple times (especially birds, hence the username), I really like finding new animals, both ones that I've heard of and ones that I haven't. I went to the San Diego Zoo two years ago and it was transformative both because I got to see kagus, bonobos, and kiwis, and because I learned about turacos, mousebirds, and couas.

    The kagus were particularly exciting because I didn't realize anyone had them. This has raised my hope that some of the many other species I've long wanted to see but never thought to see in North America might also be found hidden away in zoos behind the lions and giraffes and gorillas. And my discovery of turacos and mousebirds taught me that there were whole orders of birds I was unaware of. (I've since gone over the Wikipedia pages on bird orders several times, and am confident I know them all, but I'm not even close to knowing all the bird families.)

    Interestingly, I realized the area from which I originally hail doesn't have an AZA zoo either despite having the population for one (and neither does Central Mass or Greater Hartford despite even greater populations), however the (ZAA-accredited) Zoo at Forest Park and the fact I often got to visit the Bronx Zoo and New England Aquarium were sufficient for me as a child. Especially the Bronx Zoo. I've always had a weird love for monophyletic taxa, and I therefore loved seeing the okapis and red pandas at the Bronx Zoo. My home area also has the Lupa Zoo, which has a reasonably impressive collection for a zoo built by a private collector in the latter part of the 20th century, but there's at least one very obvious reason (enclosure sizes) that it doesn't even have ZAA accreditation.

    I'm also staunchly pro-private possession of exotic animals (though I don't currently have any animals myself) and the existence of an exotic pet forum suggests that many members of this forum do not agree with the "wild animals belong in the wild except for certified educational and conservation programs such as zoos" line that every AZA zoo tour guide ever seems compelled to recite. (I recently read through the entire accreditation standards for both the AZA and ZAA and the AZA's hatred of exotic animals in private hands shines palatably through all the bureaucratese.)

    Any rate, I'm excited to be here on these forums. There's three AZA zoos within a three-hour drive of Austin, in Waco, San Antonio, and Houston (in increasing order of distance). I'm thinking I might visit them in that order, building up to Houston, which appears to have the largest collection of turacos in the US, but is also both furthest away from Austin and has the worst weather.
     
  2. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    10 Feb 2009
    Posts:
    5,406
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    Welcome and glad you found us. Yes oddly Austin has two zoos, neither of which I have visited or seem worth visiting/supporting. Over the last several years I did multiple trips to Texas for a book I published two years ago called Zoos of the Southwest. Some of this country's best zoos are in your adopted state, so you will do well. As I said in the book, Dallas Zoo is the best zoo in the southwest (and an easy top ten in the country IMO). However if you like birds, Houston and San Antonio have unsurpassed collections. The closest "major" zoo to you in Waco is also one of my personal favorites, as is the one in Tyler (Caldwell Zoo).

    I also agree with your assessment of the AZA. Having volunteered at an AZA zoo for over a decade myself (but no longer) and having had personal conversations with directors from non AZA zoos, I can tell you they are not all they make themselves out to be.
     
  3. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    3 Jun 2016
    Posts:
    151
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    Thanks. I can definitely tell Houston has a great bird collection because it has go-away-birds, which aren't a bird a zoo only interested in the most colorful and charismatic birds would keep. It looked like San Antonio had a decent collection too; I didn't notice any species that stood out, but the aviary looked really nice I'm glad to learn that my impression is correct.

    I'll keep the Dallas Zoo in mind if I ever visit Dallas, but I don't see myself making trips to Dallas or Tyler just to see the zoos, at least not at the moment. (Too bad though; I drove through Tyler when I moved to Texas and might have stopped had I known it had an awesome zoo.) Houston's zoo is pushing the limits of the furthest I'm willing to drive to and back in a day, and I don't really want to stay overnight. One advantage of living in the Northeast was that I could take the train into NYC for the day; but trains in Texas are overpriced, infrequent, and slow.

    On the other hand, I have a friend who will be visiting the Houston and San Antonio Zoos with me (one of the reasons I haven't visited them since moving to Austin is we've been trying to coordinate schedules) and insists on driving. (My driving terrifies almost everyone who's been in a car with me. The exceptions are two aunts who live in Miami and a cousin who lives in San Diego.) I'll float the idea of visiting the Dallas Zoo with him. If he's up for eight hours of driving; I'm up for eight hours of sitting in the car.

    The AZA standards look like they're written to serve the interests of the AZA. Requirements that member zoos adhere to all AZA standards and participate in all Species Survival Plans (and there are plans for animals like kinkajous which are Least Concern in the wild and ubiquitous in captivity), and that animals can only be transferred to zoos which follow certain AZA rules strike me as particularly onerous. They have a random requirement that all zoos have statements of diverse hiring practices, as well as requiring a whole lot of specific full-time positions whose holders must have AZA professional membership. The "performance-based" standards for animal care seem designed to allow wiggle room both in excusing poor conditions in facilities that tow the party line and in punishing facilities that don't.

    The ZAA standards are clearly written to serve the interests of the individual zoos. The standards for physical facilities are much consistent, transparent, and look sensible. They're also much more willing to allow the general public to interact with animals than the AZA, and have detailed standards written around that. However the standards for enrichment are oddly vague, the documentation requirements are rather lax, and there appear to be no requirements for backup power to exhibits such as rainforests and aquaria, nor for regular veterinary care. I also like the idea of requiring member zoos to take part in conservation initiatives, even if I find the AZA's conception of "conservation" a bit odd.

    Mind, those are just my impressions from reading the standards. Talking to zookeepers probably gives you a better idea of how the standards are implemented in practice. I will say that the Zoo at Forest Park--the only ZAA zoo I've been to--seemed to have facilities every bit as nice as any AZA zoo, it just had a much smaller collection than any AZA zoo I've been to.
     
    Last edited: 3 Jun 2016
  4. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    10 Dec 2012
    Posts:
    11,365
    Location:
    fijnaart, the netherlands
    Hi Zygodactyl, welcome also from the Netherlands and after reading your 2 posts I guess ZooChat is the right place to be for you, hope you can learn a bit more about animals and can contribute to the several discussions which we have here on ZooChat !
     
  5. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    3 Jun 2016
    Posts:
    151
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    Thank you, vogelcommando.