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Hungarian zoo specialists meet in Budapest November 29, 2022

The annual meeting of Hungarian zoo specialists, the Zoo Disputa, is hosted by our zoo this year. The central theme of the 2+1 day conference is animal protection and the role of zoos in animal welfare.

Zoo Disputa is the traditional professional conference for zoo specialists in Hungary, with a history dating back to the 1980s. Hungarian Association of Zoos was founded at the same time - in 1983 to be precise - and the official name is Hungarian Association of Zoos and Aquaria (MÁASZ). It is under the umbrella of this professional organisation, which brings together thirteen Hungarian zoos, that the Zoo Disputa is regularly held, and this year our zoo is the host of the event.
This year's Zoo Disputa will focus on animal protection. Amongst other things, the role of zoos in animal protection, animal rescue, and caring for the welfare of zoo animals will be discussed. And the use of animal protection, animal rescue, and animal welfare results in zoo education, with awareness-raising work in zoos, will also be touched on in this event.

On the first two days of the conference, Thursday and Friday, there will be around twenty-five presentations on the above topics. The program will include round-table discussions, professional guided tours and demonstrations, and educational team games. On Saturday, Zoo Disputa guests will visit the Kecskemét Wildlife Park and the educational trail at the sand hills of the Kiskunság National Park in Fülöpházi.

For those more seriously interested in zoology, we have put together a short report on Zoo Disputa, which will be updated with more and more details as the program progresses. We cannot reproduce here all the presentations and thoughts presented, but those interested in the zoo profession and the welfare activities of zoos will find the following useful.
The opening and plenary session of the first day of the conference on Thursday was moderated by Zoltán Hanga, spokesperson of the Budapest Zoo. In his introduction, he recalled the decades-long tradition of Zoo Disputa and László Kasza (1921-2008), the former director of the Veszprém Zoo, who was one of the main inspirers of Zoo Disputa in the 1980s.

One of the hosts of the event was Dr. Anett Bősz, Deputy Mayor of Budapest for Human Policies, who first welcomed the participants of Zoo Disputa in a video message, on behalf of the Budapest Municipality, which maintains the Budapest Zoo. She said that we all need to act together to protect wildlife and animals. We must shape our future with our children's future in mind. It is this intention and action that this conference is based on so that our children can experience a Hungary like the one we inherited. Thus have a special responsibility not only to experience the diversity of wildlife but also to raise public awareness of the vulnerability of biodiversity and ways to protect it.

Speaking on behalf of the host institution, the Budapest Zoo, and Botanical Garden, Roland Szabó, Director of Operations, said: - "It is an honour to host this prestigious and traditional conference this year. Every day we strive to be seen not only as a place to show animals and plants to the wider public but also as a centre for species conservation and education. All the knowledge that the speakers will bring to this event will be at the service of this." In his speech, he highlighted the mutually supportive nature of the participating professional community and wished all participants a successful journey of learning and development.

László Gajdos, President of the Hungarian Association of Zoos and Aquaria and Director of Sóstó Zoo, said in his opening speech that among the 400 members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), together with the Hungarian zoos, reaches almost 160 million visitors. Today, these zoos and all their staff are ambassadors of animal welfare and species protection. "Disputa is about learning from each other!"

The actual presentations were opened by Péter Ovádi, the government commissioner responsible for the development and implementation of the Animal Welfare Action Plan and this year's Zoo Disputa patron. In his presentation, he pointed out that dialogue is also important to promote responsible animal keeping. There are constant challenges in attitudes, which this conference is a good opportunity to address and to provide new ways of thinking and solutions for participants, including the wider non-professional audience. Zoos and animal welfare are closely linked, as these institutions play a leading role in responsible animal keeping and welfare. Speaking about the work he started two years ago, he highlighted the establishment of Center for Animal Welfare at the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest and the contact with the MÁASZ and the Animal Protection Online Consultation, in which 262,000 people gave their opinion. Speaking about the establishment of the National Council for Animal Welfare, he stressed that the advisory body will contribute to shaping the future of animal protection in Hungary by expressing its opinion, making proposals and initiatives on draft legislation and government strategy on animal protection and welfare, education, and surveys. On the latter, he highlighted and thanked Dr. Endre Sós, Director of Conservation and Veterinary Services at Budapest Zoo, and the team he leads for their work.

At the Budapest Zoo's Wildlife Rescue Centre, the professionals work with around 2,600 rescued animals - individuals of protected or highly protected species in need of human help - every year. Giving a second chance to animals such as broken-winged storks, poisoned eagles, songbirds that were fallen out of their nest, bats that were disturbed during hibernation, and many more. Most of the animals are rescued in the wildlife rescue centre of the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden, of course in cooperation with several partner organisations, such as national parks and the Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society. Wildlife rescue work is both a conservation and an animal protection activity, and it also has an educational and awareness-raising value, all the more so as our Wildlife Rescue Centre is open to the public.

In his presentation, Péter Ovádi also explained that the amendment of the Penal Code, which is an exemplary step in the fight against illegal breeders in international comparison, as well as the criminalisation of participants in animal fights, also played a key role in the review of the legal environment. He explained that there were 300-400 NGOs whose main activity was animal protection and that they supported and promoted NGO initiatives through funding applications and the creation of the Common Cause for Animal Protection Foundation. He stressed the importance of defining common guidelines with MÁASZ because extreme non-professional animal protection cannot be a solution. However, the knowledge base gathered in zoos provides a professional basis for responsible animal keeping. Building on this knowledge base, he stressed the importance of Animal Protection Week, which starts on 5 December this year. Awareness-raising, conservation and wildlife rescue, zoo development and sharing animal welfare concepts, and the development of joint projects with MÁASZ will support the common cause of animal protection to be given a prominent role in our country, both inside and outside zoos.

Dr. Endre Sós, Director of Conservation and Veterinary Services at Budapest Zoo, presented his lecture "Animal Welfare Assessment and Monitoring", which highlighted the differences between confinement and natural habitats of animals through national and international examples. He explained that even in the natural environment, human-dominated factors and processes determine the living conditions of wild animals. They compete for available resources in wilderness and national parks, but zoos offer the opportunity to accurately shape their built environment, manage their environment, maintain family relationships, provide veterinary care and thus prolong their lives. The basic requirements for animal well-being change with age, just as humans have different needs when they are young and when they are older. Zoos take a scientific approach to animal welfare rather than a subjective judgement. He explained that physiological needs, access to food, water, and feeding require the specific knowledge of zookeepers, based on the characteristics of the individual animal, using medical, veterinary, and the latest scientific research, observation, and monitoring. In conclusion, he stressed that the knowledge gathered in zoos and the sharing of this knowledge contributes to national and international scientific and research work and the well-being of wild animals.