Blog: Promoting and Celebrating Zoo Science for a Quarter of a Century

Posted: 25th July, 2023

Paul Rose and Lewis Rowden, from WWT Slimbridge and ZSL respectively, and co-chairs of the BIAZA Research Committee, write about the Committee's milestone anniversary and the event which serves as a nexus of zoo science...

Each year, BIAZA’s Research Committee runs a conference to showcase current research outputs of zoos and aquariums across the UK and Ireland, and sometimes further afield too. In the summer of 2023, this conference, ably hosted by Dudley Zoo & Castle, was a special anniversary of 25 years of such science centric gatherings.

First hosted by Paignton Zoo Environmental Park (now Paignton Zoo Wild Planet Trust) in 1999 as the Research Symposium from the Federation of Zoological Gardens of UK and Ireland’s Research Group, this event has moved around the country each subsequent year, giving the chance for different institutions in all of the BIAZA regions a chance to host a gathering of in-zoo researchers, scientists and interested parties alongside of external academics and zoo science experts. Across these 25 years, the conference has grown in attendance, scope, and reach, covering diverse topic areas that relate to all aspects of zoo operations and outputs.

In 2008, the ten-year conference was hosted by The Deep in Hull, giving an aquarium the mainstage to showcase research in a different zoological facility. The 20th anniversary conference in 2018 was brought back to its Devon roots, with Living Coasts (the now closed facility in Torquay and part of Wild Planet Trust) and Paignton Zoo hosting. The 10th and 20th anniversary conferences focussed on key advances in zoo science and research outputs, looking at areas of currency and development to keep research questions contemporary and relevant.

The 25th anniversary conference mirrored this theme but also expanded it, looking back to the past to see what questions are still unanswered, whilst considering how we have moved forward and why. The 10th anniversary conference’s key focus was on members of the then Research Group itself, giving talks on current issues that formed the main research focus in zoos and aquariums at the time. For the 20th and 25th anniversary conferences, keynote speakers were chosen to reflect the reach and influence of BIAZA’s Research Committee. Initially, we heard from scientists whose careers started in the zoo world, helped along by the presence of the Research Committee, its resources, connections and means of supporting zoo science.

Secondly, and to add more diversity to the 25th anniversary event, bridges were built with our research counterparts across the Atlantic by inviting representation from AZA’s Research & Technology Committee to discuss the relevance of innovation and novel technology to zoo science questions. Both keynote speakers delivered fantastic overviews and personal accounts of their research journeys, to further add value to the conference overall. Creating new connections and developing links across BIAZA’s own committees and working groups, as well as with those in other similar institutions, enables relationships to be formed that will secure the future of zoo science for the next quarter of a century. Collaboration is always stronger than competition, and ultimately, will provide a more solid foundation for how we answer important questions and meet the challenges of zoo and aquarium operations and animal management into the middle and latter part of the 21st Century.

The current co-chairs of the Research Committee, Lewis Rowden (ZSL) and Dr Paul Rose (WWT) reflect on their own experiences of BIAZA research and the relevance of science to how zoos function and how they are perceived.

Lewis says, “For me, all the BIAZA Committees and Working Groups demonstrate the core values of collaboration and community that underpin conservation work of today. The Research Committee as part of this network plays an important role in championing science as one of the essential pillars of the modern zoo. It’s only through research that we can contribute robust evidence that informs practice across all areas of zoo operation (from animal care, in-situ conservation support, fundamentals of biological theory and social license); and I’m very grateful to be a part of this committee. It’s a group of people that have supported my interests from being a student and then zookeeper, through to the fortunate position I’m now in as a Zoo Research Officer – and what is most exciting is that I can see this support continues to be offered to a widening network of collaborators and will only continue to do so over the next 25+ years.”

Paul says, “I first experienced a BIAZA research symposium back in 2002 at Bristol Zoo and I was struck by the collegiate and supportive nature of the meeting- encouraging and friendly to everyone regardless of their career stage, yet keen to promote the quality and validity of zoo research outputs. I was honoured to be invited to join the Research Group (as was) back in 2010 and my first meeting was at the Chester Zoo symposium that summer. It was daunting to be placed at the same table as people whose names I had only seen as citations in my university assignment work! Having risen through the Committee from member to vice-chair, and to a chairing position, it has been a real privilege to craft and develop how BIAZA promotes, supports, and advocates for research across its members and beyond. I am especially proud of running the Committee and its conference during the Covid-19 pandemic, utilising online platforms to ensure that science stayed accessible and relevant in challenging times. And it has been great to author relevant policy, which will continue to strengthen the need for research, and its applications into the years to come. My early experiences at BIAZA research events and as part of the Committee, still shape my philosophy to this day; to push others to do the best zoo science that they possible can, whilst being helpful, useful, and accessible regardless of who they are and where they are from.”  

We look forward to seeing both new-to-the-field and established zoo researchers, from all areas of academia and industry, at future BIAZA Research Conferences, including the 2024 event that will take zoo science back to Ireland and be hosted by Fota Wildlife Park in Cork. 

- Paul Rose & Lewis Rowden

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions. 

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