Zoologists and scientists in Beijing learned from some of the world's top experts in animal welfare and environmental enrichment this May as the International Conference on Environmental Enrichment was held there.
The conference, which originated in Portland in 1993, is still run by Dr. David Shepherdson, the Oregon Zoo's deputy conservation manager.
"When we started the conference, there didn't seem to be any place that brought together researchers in animal welfare and environmental enrichment with zoo practitioners. There just wasn't, at that time, any forum where those two could meet," Shepherdson said.
The China conference marks the 12th ICEE, which takes place every other year. Shepherdson said the largest conference drew 400 people and the smallest about 100. This year there were approximately 190 participants in Beijing.
"It's our goal to take the conference where we think they will benefit the most. Countries where zoos are less well-developed are a priority in that respect," Shepherdson said.
Craig Stroud, the zoo's deputy director, said the ICEE is an important way the zoo collaborates and shares its expertise in animal welfare.
"The Oregon Zoo has been a leader on zoo animal welfare for many years," he said. "Conferences like the ICEE, first established by this zoo, not only give us an opportunity to share our discoveries with other professionals on a global scale but they also give us the opportunity to learn from others. Zoos are highly collaborative institutions and part of our mission is to contribute to the health and wellbeing of zoo animals throughout the world, the ICEE helps us to do this."
Dingzhen Liu, professor of zoology at the College of Life Sciences, Beijing Normal University, said in an email that the conference was a big success for his colleagues in China.
He said many zoo managers and zookeepers in China have been engaged in animal welfare since 1993, but that the "concepts, theories and techniques in environmental enrichment were not totally clear."
He has already seen positive impacts on his colleagues since the conference took place in late May.
"Many zoos have learned the right methods and theories in conducting environmental enrichment work at their own zoos, the standard methods and protocols in conducting environmental enrichment are being propagated in many city zoos and wildlife parks across China in addition the three major city zoos in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai…and most importantly, the public is more aware of the issue of environmental enrichment in addition to scientists, zoo managers and zookeepers," Liu said.
Shepherdson said that the conference went to China at a good moment in the country's history.
"China is changing so rapidly and it's not just their economy, it's they way they think and do. Helping them modernize their institutions with respect for animal welfare will have benefits not just for China but for the rest of the world as well," he said. "More and more Chinese people are getting very much engaged with issues of animal welfare and environmentalism."
The next ICEE conference will take place in 2017 and a location has not yet been finalized.