I recently had the opportunity and pleasure to represent CCF at the EAZA Conference here in Helsinki, Finland. After working for CCF as Research and Education Manager for almost five years at its headquarters in my home country of Namibia, I got married, packed my bags and moved to Finland. I still work for CCF remotely, and the EAZA Conference was the perfect platform to not only meet and network with conservation researchers and educators, but to introduce CCF to the European zoo community.
The 5-day conference took place from 12 – 16 September and was hosted by the Helsinki Zoo. This annual conference brings together its over 340 member organizations spread across 47 countries throughout Europe and Western Asia. Member organizations are from the zoo and aquarium community, and EAZA ensures that each of its member zoos and aquariums meet and maintain the highest standards of care and population management for the species they keep. EAZA’s mission is to use an open and cooperative approach to population management, wild animal care and welfare, representation with international organizations, conservation education, and scientific research, to consistently define and demonstrate excellence in integrated species conservation.
Dr. Sanna Hellström, the CEO of the Helsinki (Korkeasaari) Zoo, and Dr. Stefan Prost, a collaborator with the CCF from the University of Oulu in Finland, were among the representatives from many organizations I was able to interact with and network with. I also got to know Dr. Rocio PaIacios, who is the executive director of the Andean Cat Alliance and a lifelong friend of Dr. Laurie Marker. While on a boat to the Helsinki Zoo, she didn’t think twice to tell me that she was familiar with Dr. Marker and the work that CCF does. Dr. Frank Rietkerk from Dubai Safari Park was another friend of CCF I met; he searched through the crowd for me at Dr. Marker’s request, introduced himself, and said he knew Dr. Marker. I also got to meet Sean McKeown, the Director of Ireland’s Fota Wildlife Park, who is a friend of CCF.
Since CCF is not an EAZA member, I needed a letter of support from one to attend the conference on CCF’s behalf. I was suggested to the conference organizer as CCF’s representative by Dr. Alexander Sliwa, a friend and supporter of CCF from the Cologne Zoo and Chair of the EAZA Felid TAG. I had met Dr. Sliwa at CCF Namibia a few years ago when he visited and gave a talk on his research study on the black-footed cat in Namibia. I am sincerely grateful to Dr. Sliwa for providing the support letter.
To understand the various Ex-Situ Programmes (EEPs) and Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs) offered by EAZA, I attended talks and took part in workshops. It was interesting to learn how the various zoos work together to achieve a similar purpose – the conservation of wild and endangered species – coming from CCF where our cheetah conservation programmes are in-situ.
The passion and efforts of people all around the world to save Earth’s species were showcased at the EAZA Conference and this was incredibly motivating and encouraging. It undoubtedly brought back pleasant memories of my time at CCF, Namibia. My main takeaway from the EAZA Conference is that everyone should be concerned with wildlife conservation now more than ever, and that you can contribute and have a tremendous impact no matter who you are or where you are from – collaboration is an important puzzle piece in our conservation efforts!
According to EAZA members, the EAZA Conference keeps growing every year, and this year the conference brought together 891 delegates from 342 institutions and 70 countries. I am very excited that CCF was represented and was among the very few organizations which is not a zoo and focuses on in-situ conservation.