Working together in the Raptor TAG
One of the aspects of the Zoo that some people may not know about is how much zoos communicate with each other and collaborate to promote the best practices in animal care, education, research and conservation. Many zoos in North America, including Zoo Atlanta, are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Within AZA’s Conservation and Science Department, there are several Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs) that focus on the conservation of an entire taxa of animals by creating recommendations for the management of that taxa within AZA institutions. I am fortunate enough to be an education advisor for the Raptor TAG. Raptors are made up of several orders of birds of prey, including Accipitriformes (hawks, eagles and Old World vultures), Cathartiformes (New World vultures), Strigiformes (owls), and Falconiformes (falcons).**
One of the coolest parts about being part of the Raptor TAG has been getting to learn from other zoo professionals across the country. The other Raptor TAG education advisors and I worked hard this year to try and create a more centralized resource for educational activities and conservation messaging about International Vulture Day. In doing so, I gained so much knowledge and inspiration from my peers. It’s important that zoos are able to share this kind of information with each other so that we can learn from each other and speak with a unified voice to our guests about conservation.
As part of the Raptor TAG, I also have the opportunity to help with an exciting conservation initiative called AZA SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction), which aims to pool the resources of various AZA professionals to create a comprehensive and targeted conservation action plan for a species or group of species. African vultures were recently named a SAFE species, and so the conservation action plan is in the process of being written. It’s been really inspiring seeing all of the wonderful conservation work that’s already going on, and to see what lies ahead in the future.
** Fun side note: Although we call vultures worldwide by the same name, they are actually part of two different families. Old World vultures are those from Africa, Asia and Europe, and they make up the family Accipitridae. New World vultures are those from North and South America, and they make up the family Cathartidae. Although Old and New World vultures share many of the same behaviors (eating carrion) and features (bald heads, strong stomach acid), they evolved these traits separately, as a result of similar selection pressures, as opposed to relatedness. These traits are called homoplasies. You can now use this knowledge to impress your friends at parties!
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