What can science do for zoos, and what can zoos do for science? This complicated question was posed by the representative of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria to the participants of the 6th International Zoo and Wildlife Research Conference on Behaviour, Physiology and Genetics in Berlin.

Presentations and an animated discussion proved that together we are much stronger than each of us alone. The scientific basis for the preservation of the animals' health and welfare in zoos and endangered wildlife populations is provided with the help of detailed research of the animals' immune systems in the wild and in captivity, hormonal analysis, reproductive physiology studies, genetic and anatomical research of normal body functions and pathology. Most of the research is being done using those samples that animals are prepared to give up willingly, without being subjected to any unpleasant procedures, like faeces and urine, hair, saliva and even sounds.

Presentations on sound analysis were delivered by conference participants who represented research conducted at the Moscow Zoo, also by students of the Moscow State Lomonosov University working there. This research shows that sounds can be used to evaluate the degree of emotional arousal in rodents (the Great Gerbil) and carnivores (the Red Fox), to determine pair stability in Red-Crowned Cranes, who come to their nesting grounds every year, and even to make conclusions on the evolution of reproductive behaviour of the Saiga Antelope. This proves the importance of cooperation among zoo professionals specializing in different areas of research.

Another topic discussed at the conference was the role of zoos as venues for conducting behavioural observations, for education and research conducted by students, and the importance of providing anatomical materials to zoological museums, universities, and, of course, to research laboratories in zoos. In the recent years, many zoos have been creating within their organizational structures research subdivisions and laboratories which provide the opportunity for developing behavioral enrichment programs “in situ”, for sex determination, hormonal analysis and the evaluation of the animals' emotional state. Some of those subdivisions are engaged in simultaneous research for several zoos, and some have even assumed a global character. Among those is the Wildlife Contraception Center that has been established at the St. Louis Zoo, USA (www.stlzoo.org/contraception ). It often happens that because of the impossibility of selling animals, state quarantine restrictions or insufficient space, some animals have to be prevented from breeding. Contraception techniques can help to temporarily stop the breeding and resume it later when the conditions become more favourable. Anybody will agree that this is more humane than culling “surplus” animals for meat or separate pairs or social groups for long periods of time, because for many carnivores, primates, ungulates and even birds, social interactions are no less important than they are for humans.