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Conservation at the Zoo and in the Gardens

AZA’s Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program participation:
AZA SAFE is a program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SAFE’s intent is to focus the collective expertise in member zoos and aquariums, and leverage their massive audiences to save species. At the same time SAFE is intended to build capacity to increase direct conservation spending, as well as member impact on saving species through work the field, in member zoos and aquariums, and through public engagement. AZA identified ten species for focus the first year: sharks and rays, African penguins, cheetah, western pond turtle, the vaquita, Asian elephant, black rhinoceros, sea turtles, whooping crane and gorilla.

The Living Desert is participant on the three SAFEs that are relevant to our mission: the cheetah, the western pond turtle and the vaquita. Perhaps our greatest involvement is with the Cheetah SAFE where TLD’s Director of Education Mike Chedester is the Public Engagement Coordinator. We also participate as collaborators in the Vaquita SAFE and Western Pond Turtle SAFE Public Engagement groups.

Recently AZA has promoted a “member-sponsored” SAFE for the giraffe in which we are also collaborators and TLD Volunteer Manger Justin Carmichael is the Public Engagement Coordinator.

TLD’s Desert Carnivore Conservation Center (DC3):

In 2016, The Living Desert completed construction of a breeding and holding compound for the purpose of contributing to the sustainability of zoo populations and the conservation of small desert carnivores. This off-exhibit compound consists of sixteen 12ft. x 12ft. enclosures interlinked for flexibility of management, roofed but open to the air with an open view on the sides, and with evaporative coolers for extreme hot weather.

Zoos are suffering a decline in their ability to sustain zoo animal populations. This likely results from a variety of factors including insufficient animal holding and breeding space, low breeding success, need for more advanced husbandry techniques, or, occasionally, lack of success in completing breeding recommendations. There is an importance for zoo collaboration, a critical need for more space, and a specific need for increased breeding and holding space.

Lack of space is the number-one factor affecting zoos’ ability to make species sustainable for the long-term. Beyond a general lack of space, the lack of holding and breeding space that is needed for exhibits is a primary concern. Centralized “breeding and holding centers” are necessary to maintain sustainable populations of some taxonomic groups required by many AZA member institutions.

Since completion, TLD has focused on fennec fox, sand cat and the highly endangered black-footed cat.

Desert Pupfish Refugia Management:
The desert pupfish is the only native fish species in the Salton Sink Basin. Historically pupfish occurred in many streams, springs and seeps in SE California, SW Arizona and NW Mexico, but most of these populations are severely reduced or extirpated. In California, natural populations currently inhabit the Salton Sea and its shoreline pools, tributaries, and irrigation drains. Populations also inhabit artificial refuges. The Living Desert was one of the first (1972) to establish one of the 13 refuges in California. TLD has pupfish refuges on its property. The importance of these refuges is increasingly being recognized, as the threats to pupfish habitat increase and wild populations decline.

Studbooks and Species Survival Plans:
The Living Desert is active in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) ex situ conservation programs. TLD holds five studbooks (Cuvier’s gazelle, addax, slender-horned gazelle, desert bighorn, and Mexican wolf), and TLD staff are the coordinators of five Species Survival Plans (SSPs) or candidate programs: Cuvier’s gazelle, scimitar-horned oryx, slender-horned gazelle, desert bighorn, and Mexican wolf.

The mission of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) cooperatively managed Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program is to oversee the population management of select species within AZA member institutions and to enhance conservation of this species in the wild. Each SSP Program coordinates the individual activities of participating member institutions through a variety of species conservation, research, husbandry, management, and educational initiatives.

The purpose of an AZA Regional Studbook or WAZA International Studbook is to document the pedigree and history of each animal within a managed population among AZA and WAZA member institutions. These data may be validated and further analyzed to summarize the current demographic and genetic status of the population by a small population management specialist to create SSP breeding and transfer plan or other conservation analyses or research projects.

Understanding Raptor Diseases:
With the University of California Davis’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the California Raptor Center, The Living Desert is participating in research looking at the prevalence of Chlamydia psittaci in raptors that arrive at The Living Desert through our wildlife rehabilitation program. Chamydia can cause illness in many species of birds and can also infect humans.

The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation:
The GSPC is the world’s most powerful plant conservation initiative. It grew out of the international Convention on Biological Diversity, and is being fed into government policy around the world. Overall, the U.S. is still more than 3,000 taxa away from meeting the GSPC’s Target 8 goal that 75% of threatened species will be conserved in plant collections by 2020. The 1,449 different plant taxa in The Living Desert’s plant collections are part of the North American Collection Assessment.

Desert Tortoise Adoption:
The Living Desert in partnership with the regional California Turtle and Tortoise Club coordinates the Desert Tortoise Adoption Program for the California Department of Game and Fish in Southeastern California. This program’s objective is to retard the illegal collection of tortoises in the wild and to prevent the release to the wild of disease carrying tortoises.

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