Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is hosting two separate and prestigious meetings this week and next week that will draw wildlife conservation experts from across the United States and people who care for rhinos from around the globe.
The Conservation Centers for Species Survival, also known as C2S2, is a consortium of five centers, including Fossil Rim, that have large acreage to breed, manage and research endangered species and help them recover.
The other centers are the San Diego Wild Animal Park, The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, Fla., and the Conservation & Research Center at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in Front Royal, Va.
The centers meet annually and it’s Fossil Rim’s turn to host the gathering. Collectively, they have more than 25,000 acres and have studied and aided the recovery of species such as the California condor, black-footed ferret, Florida panther, kit fox, Mexican wolf, red wolf, desert tortoise, Attwater’s Prairie Chicken, Mississippi sandhill crane and others.
The five centers make up about 65 percent of the total acreage of all American Zoological and Aquarium Association members.
“Lots of zoos are relatively small, with perhaps 80 acres,” said Dr. Patrick Condy, Fossil Rim's executive director. “The issue is space means animal space. The five centers already had their animals running in relatively large spaces compared with zoo exhibits with one or two or three critters.”
What the centers found is the animals running in families or herds on hundreds of acres tended to breed more successfully that those confined to small exhibits. Using a sophisticated electronic database called ISIS, zookeepers and conservation center staff are able to track specific animals from place to place and compile enormous amounts of data about them. Analyzing that data has proven to extremely valuable in helping C2S2 figure out if certain species are breeding to make enough young to sustain their populations.
“Zoos need babies to attract visitors,” Dr. Condy said. “If the animals are not breeding, how are they going to do it?”
About 30 people are expected to attend the meeting.
On Sunday, rhino keepers from across the United States and around the world meet in Glen Rose and in Texas for the first time. About 100 people are expected to attend the workshop for members of the International Rhino Keepers Association.
Adam Eyres, Fossil Rim's post-doc supervisor of hoof stock and rhinos, said the group began as rhino keepers networking with other rhino keepers. They found that people who are keepers of rhinos in the wild are valuable sources of information for people who work with rhinos in captivity, such as in zoos, and vice versa.
“Each group can enhance the other group,” Eyres said.
Fossil Rim, for example, is home to four black rhinos and seven white rhinos. It has learned a lot about rhino care. One of its former interns, Jade Tuttle, rhino keeper at the North Carolina Zoo, will speak on building a successful breeding program for the southern white rhino.
During the workshop, to be held at Somervell County Expo hall, attendees will hear from Dr. Condy and Kelley Snodgrass, director of animal care and natural resource management. Speakers include rhino keepers from the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, San Diego's Safari Park, the Hamilton Zoo in New Zealand, Great Plains zoo, Uganda Wildlife Education Center and others.
They will share information and experiences about everything from rhino diets and breeding to combatting poaching in the wild and black rhino skin issues.
The conference attendees will enjoy an “ice breaker” gathering at the Comfort Inn, the hotel for the conference, and dinner at Hollywood & Vine, dinner at Fossil Rim catered by Hammond's BBQ and a trip to the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco.