From its earliest days, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been a leader in animal wellbeing. The flagship Bronx Zoo established its first veterinary department in 1901. At the time, the department consisted only of a pathologist and a veterinarian. Today, the Wildlife Health Sciences division includes departments of clinical care, pathology, nutrition, and field veterinary programs. The Wildlife Health Center, located on Bronx Zoo grounds, serves more than 15,000 animals from the four WCS zoos in New York. The state-of-the-art Aquatic Animal Health Center at the New York Aquarium opened in 2008 to meet the unique challenges of caring for its collection of marine animals. The high-tech hospital includes a laboratory and an operating room, several pools for patients with flippers, X-ray machines, and a kitchen for preparing meals for residents of all sizes, from a tiny seahorse to a 3,000-pound walrus.
To satisfy a carnivore’s curiosity and a pachyderm’s prowess, the Wildlife Conservation Society has developed an enrichment program that exercises animal minds and muscles. Keepers at the New York Zoos and Aquarium work with their charges to strengthen bonds, stimulate natural instincts and behaviors, and facilitate care. Enrichment items can range from a giant pulley toy for big cats, to a foraging log for birds or octopuses, to a mobile for monkeys. Visitors can watch animal playtime and training sessions at exhibits throughout the parks.
Species Survival Plans
All five WCS parks participates in the AZA’s Species Survival Plans (SSPs), cooperative conservation and animal management programs. The plans are devoted to maintaining genetically diverse populations of selected endangered species in zoos and aquariums, as well as to ensuring their perpetuity in the wild. Participants conduct research and field projects, including programs to reintroduce some species into the wild. Public education and outreach also create awareness of their plight in the wild. WCS zoo and aquarium staff chair the management groups as SSP coordinators, act as studbook keepers who compile historical records of the plan’s animals, and work with other parks to ensure threatened species thrive in our care. This tremendous commitment of staff time and resources is just one way in which WCS fulfills its mission of conservation, education and research.
The Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium are together involved in 64 distinct Species Survival Plans, ranging from big cats to tiny toads.