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San Diego Zoo Global Academy, July 2019. Photo of a red-legged kassina

Academy Launches New Professional Series Course: Exploring Taxonomy and Systematics

Compass logoBy Gary Priest, Curator of Animal Care Training, San Diego Zoo Global Academy

Did you know that the need to positively identify medicinal plants by a specific name was the driving force behind what has become the systematic classification of all of Earth's biodiversity?  

Very practical human needs fueled scientific interest in the development of taxonomy and systematics, with the identification and cataloging of plants and animals. About 2,000 years ago, early physicians in Egypt, Greece, and Rome were developing great interest in medicinal plants. This interest in botany and the healing properties of certain plants created the need to accurately identify plants with medicinal value. The word origin of taxonomy comes from a combination of the Greek taxis, meaning "arrangement," and nomos, meaning "law." Taxonomy literally means "arrangement laws."

Today, over 1.25 million individual species of plants and animals have been identified. The most current estimate for the Earth's biological diversity is now at about 8.7 million species. Clearly, most of the arrangement work in taxonomy and systematics is still before us.

Comparison of Known to Unknown Animal Species on Earth: Estimated 1.25 million known species; Estimated 7.45 million unknown species.

Were you aware that cladistics and phylogenetics are alternative systems of classification, both based on tracing organisms back to their most recent common ancestor? In contrast, Linnaean taxonomy (the system most of us are familiar with) focuses on classifications based on shared characteristics. Do you understand why the differences in approach to classifications have implications for the breeding of endangered species?

San Diego Zoo Global Academy is pleased to announce the creation of the latest addition to our professional series of courses, and the very first one to be authored by a keeper, for keepers. Author Kym Janke has done an outstanding job with a deeply complex topic. Nearly four years ago, in our first discussions about this course, I asked Kym to write it from the keeper's perspective, and ultimately to answer the question "Why would a keeper need a refresher course on taxonomy, a course they probably took in college?" Kym did just that, and the result is Exploring Taxonomy and Systematics. 

If it has been 10 years since you took a course in taxonomy, this course is for you—because you will learn how recent discoveries in genetics and paleontology have changed what you thought you knew. For example, were you aware that despite the advances in genetics, most zoological organizations continue to use the cladistics approach to the classifications they present to the public via interpretive graphics? Taxonomy is an evolving science, and keeping current in recent developments in the field is important for those who are serious about their profession.

Exploring Taxonomy and Systematics is the companion course to the Academy's Population Biology, authored by Jamie Ivy, Ph.D. Together, these courses are an important resource for any animal care professional interested in conservation and participating in a Species Survival Plan (SSP) or maintaining a studbook. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums reports there are currently 46 Taxon Advisory Groups that collectively manage over 450 Species Survival Plans for individual species. If you are an animal care professional interested in keeping up with recent changes and participating in conservation through an SSP, Exploring Taxonomy and Systematics is designed especially for you and your professional advancement. 

View a sample of the new intermediate-level Taxonomy animal care training course.

For more information about this article, please contact Gary Priest, San Diego Zoo Global Academy, at gpriest@sandiegozoo.org.


Academy News

Bergen County Zoo logoSan Diego Zoo Global Academy Puts the Bergen County Zoological Park in the Spotlight
Bergen County Zoological Park in Paramus, New Jersey is part of the Academy's collaborative learning environment.


Administrator's Users Group Webinar                 
Please join us for the Administrator's Users Group Webinar, hosted by Academy partner CypherWorx. The next webinar is Wednesday, July 17, at 11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT).

Register for this webinar here.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Academy Contributors

Excellence Beyond Compliance logoGetting Better All the Time
Being Dedicated to the Animals Entrusted to Your Care

By James F. Gesualdi and Patricia A. Milito

To keep ahead, each one of us, no matter what our task, must search for new and better methods—for even that which we now do well must be done better tomorrow.
—James F. Bell

Zoological and aquarium organizations and their associated facilities vary greatly—in size, scope, funding, and other resources, as well as their resident animal species. Yet all should share a similar mission—one that emphasizes, above all else, the well-being of the animals in their care.

During a recent conversation with a fellow member of the zoological community, the discussion moved to larger organizations versus smaller ones. There are lessons to learn about enhancing animal welfare from studying the experiences of differently scaled organizations that are providing the highest quality animal care and welfare using the resources available to them.

Whether you are a larger organization or a smaller one, the ideology is the same: the well-being of the animals in our care is paramount, and we owe it to them to provide to the best of our ability, and to keep improving. This includes their enclosures, which should be as close to the natural habitat as is possible, maintained in such condition to be a safe environment, free of harm from themselves and the public, while providing safety to the public. It also includes their dietary intake and veterinary care, which needs to be the best it can be—and so much more.

All the bells and whistles do not make an organization or facility, whether large or small, one that meets and/or exceeds the necessary requirements of the Animal Welfare Act and Regulations, as well as governing accreditation standards. What makes an organization or a facility one that accomplishes this is organizational dedication to the animals in their care, a willingness to observe, learn, and better themselves on a daily basis, no matter their size or means—one that approaches the day believing there is always something we can do better.

The Excellence Beyond Compliance approach is a very good start at setting the wheels in motion, as are the San Diego Zoo Global Academy courses. Perhaps, through a sort of mentorship, organizations that have met and even exceeded compliance can expand their interactions with those organizations—large and small—that are earnestly seeking guidance for the betterment of the animals in their care. In doing so, we act more effectively as a community in sustaining the lives of the animals, and assuring that each one of them is being provided good quality of life—today, tomorrow, and always. After all, it is about the animals.     

Organizations and facilities need not judge themselves based on how much or how little they have available to work with, but rather on the heart and dedication they have every day in providing for their animals.

Animal Welfare Act Guidance from USDA
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Care unit has released three new Animal Care Aids from its Center for Animal Welfare. These three one-page documents relate to nondomestic cat diets, nutrition, and associated welfare concerns. As noted by the agency in releasing the documents, they are "not regulatory requirements." "[T]hey provide information, tips, and strategies that [the agency] hope[s] will help individuals provide great care for their animals." The agency announcement is available here:
Animal Welfare Act Guidance from USDA.

Feeding Nondomestic Cats discusses the best diet to keep your cats healthy and the amount of food that should be given daily, taking into consideration size, age, health, activity level, and reproductive status. The caloric content is also taken into consideration. This aid does suggest caution on homemade diets.
Feeding Nondomestic Cats

Tips and Calculations: Adding Calcium to Boneless Meat Diets for Nondomestic Cats discusses the amount of calcium to be added, recommendations for sources, and sample calculations.
Tips and Calculations: Adding Calcium to Boneless Meat Diets for Nondomestic Cats

Metabolic Bone Disease in Nondomestic Cats discusses the signs, diagnoses, and prevention of this disease.
Metabolic Bone Disease in Nondomestic Cats

Start where you are. Distant fields always look greener, but opportunity lies right where you are. Take advantage of every opportunity of service.
—Robert Collier

© 2019 James F. Gesualdi, P.C. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. This is not, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.

For more information on Excellence Beyond Compliance®, visit excellencebeyondcompliance.com.

Zoo & Conservation News

As an added Academy benefit, you can view the latest San Diego Zoo Global Zoo and Conservation News here.

Photo of a trainer with a cheetah.

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