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How do AZA zoos decide on reciprocity level?

Discussion in 'United States' started by Zygodactyl, 28 Nov 2016.

  1. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    So I've realized that there's a fair number of really good zoos which don't offer any reciprocity for members of other AZA zoos. (I very nearly overlooked two zoos near me because they don't offer reciprocity and I was using the AZA reciprocity charts to plan my January excursions). Generally, it seems like the larger the zoo is the less likely it is to offer 100% reciprocity or reciprocity at all, which makes a fair amount of sense. San Diego doesn't need to offer reciprocity to attract visitors.

    It also seems like zoos in the Northeast are least keen on reciprocity--I notice that none of the three AZA facilities I've been to in the Northeast (the Bronx Zoo, New England Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium) offers reciprocity--while zoos in the Midwest seem least likely to offer no reciprocity and most likely to offer entirely free admission. Since zoos in the Northeast seem to be less popular than Midwestern Zoos this also makes sense. (As a Northeasterner, I want to say it's because there's nothing else to do in in the Midwest, even though I know intellectually that isn't true.)

    However within a region, what would makes the Houston Zoo decide to offer 100% reciprocity, Dallas and San Antonio offer 50%, and Ft. Worth and Moody Gardens offer none? (Except Moody Gardens, which has a zoo and aquarium for which a combined ticket is $30, each of these zoos charges about $15 general admission and each seems to be pretty well regarded.)

    On a somewhat related note, how do zoos decide on whether to offer membership as a cheap, bare-bones package or an expense a-la-carte one? For example San Antonio membership is $30 and gets you in, and friends on seven designated days a year, while Houston charges $70, allows you to bring a friend every time, and offers all sorts of benefits that would be awesome if one lived in Houston. (Despite their differences in reciprocity policy, Moody Gardens has the same model as Houston, and charges $90 for membership.)
     
  2. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Moderator Staff Member

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    I have only guesses to your question, not hard data.

    San Diego has never offered any reciprocity, nor to my knowledge have any of the major aquariums in North America. The Birch Aquarium in San Diego offered it briefly, but it quickly disappeared. My guess is that since San Diego and WCS are very large organizations that have relatively little governmental support and huge operational expenses that they need every revenue stream they can get. As you point out they are also major tourist destinations (San Diego Zoo and Central Park Zoo at least), so offering reciprocity as a marketing tool probably makes no sense to them.

    Likewise aquariums are very expensive to operate and not offering reciprocity is likely a budgetary issue for them.

    In the 21st century it seems like most AZA zoos have shifted from a free reciprocal admission model to a 50% off one. This correlates with the economic hardships of the last decade+ and the never-ending increases in expense of maintaining living collections. Also many zoos have switched over to a non-profit model from a government run model (the San Diego and WCS model) which has them trying to maximize every revenue stream that they can.

    Sea World, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Busch Gardens are all commercial enterprises that exist to maximize profit for their shareholders so they obviously reject any reciprocity as part of their business model.
     
  3. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    I always forget that there are for-profit AZA zoos. Running live animal collections has never seemed like a very profitable endeavor unless--like Disney and some places in Texas do--you turn it into a resort or--like many places in Texas do--you get a large part of your income from hunting.

    This is a bit of a tangent, but what's with the AZA's opposition to sustainable hunting anyways? I'm not sure whether it's an official policy or just a remarkable act of groupthink, but I recall one story where a guy saved the scimitar oryx by gathering the animals from zoos, breeding them at a loss, then selling them to hunting ranches. The captive population has exploded, and in response the AZA changed their rules to forbid any AZA zoo giving their animals to a program who will sell them to hunting ranches.

    Are aquaria more expensive than aviaries? I get the hoofstock are relatively cheap, but as someone who looked into both aquariums and aviculture, it seems like at least on a hobby level aquarium animals are generally cheaper than birds to keep on a per-animal basis, and also cheaper to buy and maintain for animals with similar levels of difficulty.

    Also, the Texas State Aquarium offers 50% reciprocity but it's apparently not very well thought of. It will be interesting to see whether they still offer it after the big expansion is completed.
     
  4. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member

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    The refusal to allow AZA animals to end up at hunting ranches is most likely an ethics-related decision. I believe this is also what drives the exclusivity of our breeding programs, and why it is rare for program animals to be declared "surplus" and transferred out to less reputable non-AZA zoos (although this does happen, especially with more common species).

    Also, I would think that aquaria would be more expensive than aviaries, the chief reason being that the day-to-day operations of aquariums depend on complex and expensive machinery to maintain the enclosures. Also, I imagine that the specialized gear needed to clean the tanks and handle/separate the animals is not cheap either.
     
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  5. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    @Coelacanth18 : Do you work for an AZA zoo, then? Any rate, the rules prohibit allowing animals to be transferred to any facility that might transfer them or their descendants to be transferred to a hunting ranch. It was added to the ethics code after the recovery of the scimitar oryx--an animal that had been breeding poorly in zoos but did amazingly on Texas ranches. They did so well that the guy who had intended to take them and breed them them at a loss as a community serviced realized that he couldn't afford to maintain the numbers on his own ranch, and starting selling them to hunting ranches on the condition that allocate a certain number for conservation purposes. I find it baffling that the AZA believes that a well-designed program which saved a species is so horrifyingly unethical that they needed to amend their rules to prevent a repeat.

    Actually, when I think about it, hobby aviculture usually involves a large number of aviaries while hobby aquariums involve a smaller number of mixed-species tanks (most commonly a single tank). As the size of an operation increases, the number of birds per cubic foot of enclosure space would increase exponentially, while the number of animals per aquarium would increase linearly. Moreover aquariums almost always need fancy machinery and aviaries often don't even need climate control. The cost of aviaries is mostly in the initial enclosures and initial populations of birds; maintenance costs are basically food and the occasional vet bill. So you might expect that aviary costs grow logarithmically, while aquarium costs would increase linearly. I wonder if that's actually the case.
     
  6. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member

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    @Zygodactyl : I do not work for an AZA zoo, nor do I have an opinion on the issue one way or another. I was simply stating what I believe to be the reasoning behind that prohibition along with other rules and restrictions they have created. I did say "our breeding programs", but only to signify that it is you and I's regional zoo association, not that I myself work for an AZA facility. As for the model that was created for the scimitar-horned oryx, I agree that it was very successful for that species.
     
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  7. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    I have no answers, but as someone who has been a member of zoos well over two decades I have definitely noticed the change in percentage. Fifteen or twenty years ago the vast majority on the list offered free admission and only a handful were fifty percent. Now almost all of them are fifty percent, with only a couple still at free admission.

    Some non-AZA facilities also offer it. There is (or there was) an official reciprocity list that I used to get when I was a member of Exotic Feline Breeding Compound (which I have not been for several years). It had maybe twenty to thirty facilities listed? I have also visited at least one unaccredited zoo - Wildlife West in New Mexico - which will let you in free if you are a member of any zoo. Their admission is (or was on my last visit) only five bucks and they are run by volunteers to care for rescued animals. They let me in free but they receive so few visitors that I felt guilty and just left a five dollar donation on my way out.
     
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  8. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    I have my local zoo's website reciprocity list open now. It says free or discounted admission to over 160 zoos and aquariums. Let us see how many aquariums are listed? (The first one I visited two months ago and paid full price because I didn't know they were on the list!)

    Alaska Sealife Center
    Aquarium of the Bay
    Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
    Mote Marine Aquarium
    Florida Aquarium
    National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
    Sea Life (Missouri)
    Albuquerque Aquarium
    North Carolina Aquarium (all three locations)
    Texas State Aquarium
     
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  9. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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