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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Felid TAG Meeting
I've been in Cincinnati this week at the annual meeting of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's (AZA) Felid Taxon Advisory Group. The AZA is the accrediting organization for zoos and aquariums in North America, setting high standards for animal care, research, education, and conservation. Within the AZA there are a variety of programs that oversee and support the management of animals in accredited facilities. One of these types of groups is the Taxon Advisory Group, or TAG. TAGs are groups of experts who oversee collection planning and conservation efforts for specific groups of animals (taxa). Therefore, the Felid TAG oversees zoo cat collections. One role of the TAG is to select the species that are comprehensively managed in AZA facilities. Because there is limited space in zoos, not all animals of a certain group will be represented. The TAG evaluates species for inclusion in AZA programs through a careful planning process. They consider the potential of selected species to contribute to conservation action through education, scientific research, fund-raising to support field conservation, and managed breeding for reintroduction. The goal of this careful planning process is that each species and individual animal held at AZA zoos and aquariums has a defined conservation or education purpose.

The clouded leopard is managed through the AZA's Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan, which is overseen by the Felid TAG. (See the website for more info on SSPs.)TAG meetings include reports on a wide variety of issues pertaining to these managed species. Last year's meeting focused on cats of Southeast Asia, so reports on clouded leopard programs received great attention. This year's meeting theme is Cats of the Americas, but there were still presentations on other species. Talks included a report on the high incidence of cancer in older clouded leopards and plans for a study to evaluate ways to reduce male aggression when introducing new pairs. Look for overviews of these projects to be posted on the website in the coming weeks.

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