Helping conservation with collaboration, not competition

For many sectors competition is what makes them thrive. But in the zoo and aquarium industry collaboration drives success in conservation and animal welfare. Such close collaboration can mean the difference between survival and extinction.

" A species coordinator will scour the country, indeed the globe, looking for the right match. It sounds extreme but when you’re talking about a species like the Sumatran Tiger with only 400 left in the wild that is what you must do."

Unfortunately, there are some bad zoos in the world. Fortunately, the good ones are all accredited - like Zoos SA which is a member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA). We are all driven by a commitment to animal welfare, conservation and making a crucial difference for various species.

We don’t look at other zoos as competition. Rather we all work together because we want the best results in terms of welfare, genetics and innovation. My approach is the same as leaders at other Australian zoos such as Taronga, Zoos Victoria and Perth.


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I know at any stage I could pick up the phone and talk to a fellow zoo leader. We need strong cooperation in genetics to ensure the long-term survival of many in species. For example, when our female Sumatran Tiger passed away we wanted to ensure the next female tiger we received was a genetically good match for our male, Kembali.

A species coordinator will scour the country, indeed the globe, looking for the right match. It sounds extreme but when you’re talking about a species like the Sumatran Tiger with only 400 left in the wild that is what you must do.

Lasting impact

Fortunately we discovered a suitable female, Delilah, at Australia Zoo in Queensland. Delilah is now at Adelaide Zoo and introductions with Kembali are underway. Our fingers are crossed this results in a new litter of cubs.

Whether the cubs come or not, Delilah and Kembali are helping to spread the story about their species, the threats they face and hopefully create a lasting impact on visitors.

The ZAA accreditation process of our zoos ensures we advocate for animal welfare. It’s important we are all driven by a similar purpose and are all looking to achieve wins in this and many other areas. As a sector, through collaboration we are also innovative and flexible.

We are in an era where more species than ever are being wiped out. If we don’t work together the battle will become much more difficult.

Collaboration is also vital within our Zoos SA team. I was chosen for the role as Chief Executive Officer of Zoos SA partly because I had a business background which means I can understand financials and human resources.

I’ve always been an animal lover but I don’t need to be an animal veterinary or husbandry expert. I have a fabulous team full of these experts. Ultimately I need the team to make solid recommendations and explain enough to help me understand areas outside my expertise.

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It comes down to a fine balance between trusting staff and having enough knowledge to set direction and seek improvement. Of course, collaboration is also key when it comes to our partners.

When we work with partners it needs to be a win-win for all concerned. We offer partners a big social media presence and we always search for a mutual benefit.

Partnering for success

At last year’s Tourism Awards I was sitting next to Haunted Horizons, another of our partners. They run history and ghost tours around Adelaide and now at Adelaide Zoo. We also partner with organisations such as Variety South Australia and the Royal Society for the Blind.

We also partner with Ambleside Distillers, who created a gin using botanicals found at Monarto Safari Park. Proceeds from the special-issue gin now raise funds for rhino conservation.

We also have the support of six wineries at Langhorne Creek who each support the conservation efforts of a particular species and in return we promote a “Grapes for Good” trail.

Conservation is challenging, complex and takes a lot effort. We are determined and won’t give up easily. Our success is made easier with external support and partnerships.

Most importantly collaboration across the sector with staffing and our partners will ensure we can continue our crucial conservation work.

Elaine Bensted is Chief Executive Officer of Zoos South Australia

Donate to Zoos SA and their conservation work through Shout for Good:

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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