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Report on the meeting “From Royal gifts to biodiversity conservation, the history and development of Menageries, Zoos and Aquariums” held at Chester Zoo

Report on the meeting “From Royal gifts to biodiversity conservation, the history and development of Menageries, Zoos and Aquariums” held at Chester Zoo

This joint meeting “From Royal gifts to biodiversity conservation, the history and development of Menageries, Zoos and Aquariums”was a truly international event with 48 delegates from 9 countries representing or speaking about 30 organisations. It supposedly beat all records for the use of the maximum number of acronyms which include the letter “Z”, in one day!

This international symposium was held in celebration of the 75th anniversary of SHNH – THe Society for the History of Natural History. It was a joint collaboration between SHNH, Chester Zoo and the Linnean Society of London, supported by The Bartlett Society and WAZA – The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The focus of the symposium was to provide a comprehensive overview of the history and development of living wild animal collections across the world.  Symposium proceedings will be made available. The meeting was hosted by Chester Zoo close to the Roman town of Chester (Deva).  Full symposium programme.

The first day began with an overview of some of the historical background, continuing with presentations on the growth of regional zoo organisations, the different roles played by zoos and the ways in which zoos were initiated and funded. The focus then moved to the development of zoo records and the eventual integration of this into conservation and breeding programmes. This gave us our high score on acronyms using “Z” but also triggered much lively discussion and exchange of information. The day finished with talks on special aspects of zoo history, including the history of veterinary practise in a zoo context, archaeozoology and molecular analysis used in identifying potential source localities of menagerie lions and on the finances and history of a short-lived city zoo.

Just in case the excellent catering had not satisfied our needs, and to fill any gaps before delegates went to dine in the 1539 Restaurant at Chester Racecourse, Gordon McGregor Reid, past Director of Chester Zoo, arranged for all to have a sample of Cheshire cheese and a bottle of Darwin ale, explaining that the first came from a recipe brought to Cheshire by the Romans and the second commemorated the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin, who was born in Shrewsbury.  An excellent dinner in a most interesting venue, with the Roman wall as backdrop one way and the former Roman port, now the racecourse, on the other, was concluded with a historical review of Chester’s history from the Roman fort back to prehistoric times, accompanied by relevant artefacts from Gordon Reid’s personal collection as well as toasts to all sponsoring partners.

The second day’s programme encompassed the history of zoos in Hungary, Dublin, Sofia and Bristol, travelling menageries, fairs and aquariums. Poster papers in an adjoining room gave additional coverage, and space for displays of related materials. The role of zoos and similar displays of captive wild animals in its wider cultural context was a recurring theme, often touching on elements discussed the previous day. Presentations on individual zoos and aquariums introduced us to zoo architecture, zoos in wartime and the role of zoos as part of a social network. We ending with an overview presenting a real life example of a modern zoo’s role in an integrated conservation strategy linking pioneering care of flagship species in a zoo to political action and practical field training and education.

The excellent lecture facilities provided by Chester Zoo and the North of England Zoological Society and all the practical arrangements made by Claudine Gibson ensured that we had no technical problems, found everything we needed on hand and had ample opportunity to meet fellow delegate. Discussions continued from the lecture theatre to refreshment breaks. We left the meeting having made new friends and forged links which should result in better exchange of ideas between those working on the history of natural history, in museums, in conservation organisations and in zoo. We also had a first hand opportunity to see how George Mottershead’s 1934 dream of a “zoo without bars” has come to fruition in much of the present Chester Zoo development.

Gina Douglas
Meetings Secretary SHNH
23 May 2011

Images: Delegates at meeting © Elaine Shaughnessy; Chester 2011 © Elaine Shaughnessy.