The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) held the 2013 Herpetology Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) meetings on March 18-21, hosted by the Detroit Zoological Society. These meetings are designed to discuss and review management of our Species Survival Programs (SSP) programs, assess conservation initiatives, and hear new findings in veterinary medicine and captive reproductive technologies. Each TAG offers a one-day program, and presenting this year was the Snake TAG, Lizard TAG, Chelonian TAG and the Amphibian TAG.
The Orianne Society, with a primary focus on the conservation of rare and endangered snakes, participates in the Snake TAG on a number of levels. Fred Antonio, Director of the Orianne Center for Snake Conservation, is a member of the Snake TAG Steering Committee. In addition to contributing to committee affairs and guidance in the Regional Collection Plan, Fred also gave two presentations during this year’s meeting; Program Update on the Eastern Indigo Snake SSP and Rattlesnake Roundups in the Southeast and Central US. In the latter talk, Fred was joined by Diane Barber, Curator of Ectotherms, Fort Worth Zoo, who spoke on the current status of rattlesnake roundups in Texas and Oklahoma. Additional programs included updates on McGregor’s Pitviper (Nick Hanna, Audubon Park Zoo), Jamaican Boa (Dino Ferri, Jacksonville Zoo), Bushmaster (Brett Baldwin, San Diego Zoo, who also mentioned the Orianne Society’s developing Bushmaster program), Louisiana Pine Snake (Steve Reichling, Memphis Zoo), Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Dan Boehm, Lincoln Park Zoo), Rattleless Rattlesnake (Ian Recchio, Los Angeles Zoo), Lance-headed Rattlesnake (Penny Felski, Buffalo Zoo), Aruba Island Rattlesnake (Andy Odum, Toledo Zoo), and Armenian Mountain Viper (Mark Wanner, St. Louis Zoo). Dr. Bonnie Raphael, Bronx Zoo, presented a review of CANV (Chrysosporium anamorph of Nannizziopsis vriesii), an emerging free-ranging fungal disease. This primary pathogen has been recently documented in wild populations of the Eastern Massasauga and Timber Rattlesnake.
Exhibit sustainability became the final topic of the afternoon, discussed in open forum. Although snake species of conservation importance receive appropriate attention in AZA managed programs, more common species may not due to space limitations in AZA facilities. Dino Ferri, Snake TAG Chair and Curator of Herpetology at the Jacksonville Zoo, has expressed concern over the sustainability of our more common “bread and butter” exhibit species, such as the Green Anaconda, Reticulated Python, King Cobra, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, and large African Vipers (Gaboon Viper, Rhino Viper, Puff Adder). To this end, he has asked facilities to step forward and commit to one or two of these species to manage selective breedings for zoo exhibits. In that way the combined resources of AZA-managed programs do not have to be tapped to sustain these important education species. Through select captive breeding by a few institutions, these species can be propagated, eliminating commercial pressures on wild populations. To support this effort, The Orianne Society has committed to the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake sustainability program through captive breeding and rehabbing salvage rattlesnakes. This complements our program of holding rattlesnakes in support of Georgia DNR’s efforts in converting traditional rattlesnake roundups to wildlife festivals and diversifies our programs for this magnificent species.