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A week to Change: Phoenix Zoo and Jane Goodall Institute Join Forces to Improve Animal Welfare Around the World

BACKGROUND: In 2012, in partnership with The Jane Goodall Institute, the Phoenix Zoo created a unique position to promote international animal welfare. Hilda Tresz, the Behavioral Enrichment and International Animal Welfare Coordinator, is responsible for developing and overseeing the Zoo’s Behavioral Enrichment program, but also extends her work beyond the Zoo through an international role of helping zoos improve animal care. The following stories will describe the significance and logistics of this position through Hilda’s travels across the globe.

In some foreign zoos with limited knowledge and funding, animals are often housed alone in sterile environments, on bare concrete floors and with no “furniture” (climbing structures, resting platforms, visual barriers and the like). Many times they are malnourished, injured and/or have a variety of behavioral problems. To complicate matters further, when she visits one of these zoos, she typically have only one week to make improvements. In the remaining time, it is her responsibility to assess, negotiate and improvise to make immediate changes with limited available resources.

She must quickly determine how to effectively implement all necessary changes. Every zoo and every country is different when it comes to available resources. Initial doubts and fears of proposed changes by zoo staff are often evident; she must develop a working relationship with unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar setting. Suggestions that would seem to be common practices for those working in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facility in the United States are viewed as novel recommendations by many visited institutions.

“YOU ARE THE CAREGIVERS OF THESE ANIMALS. THEIR LIVES DEPEND ON YOUR KINDNESS. THEIR LIVES DEPEND ON HOW MUCH YOU LOVE THEM AND CARE ABOUT THEM. YOU HAVE TO BE THEIR EYES AND EARS. IT IS YOUR EVERYDAY DUTY TO DO YOUR VERY BEST FOR THEM.”

During her visits to foreign zoos, Hilda’s responsibility is to assess, negotiate and improvise in order to make immediate changes with limited available resources. Every zoo and every country is different. Initial doubts and fears of proposed changes by zoo staff are often evident; she must develop a working relationship with unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar setting. Suggestions that would seem to be common practices for those working in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facility in the U.S. (such as the Phoenix Zoo) are viewed as novel recommendations by many institutions Hilda has visited.

Hilda has dedicated her life to improving the lives of animals all over the world, and the Phoenix Zoo is extremely lucky and grateful to have her on our staff.

This is her story.

 

Born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, Hilda Tresz now resides in Mesa, Arizona, where she has lived since 1989. After graduating high school, she began working as a zookeeper and has been working with animals ever since as a caregiver, enrichment specialist, trainer, educator and behavioral manager, focusing on chimpanzees and general behavioral management for all species for over 28 years. She holds a triple-major degree in Biology, Geography and Education.

Hilda Tresz changes the lives of animals, the people that work with them, and institutions that house them. She is currently the Behavioral Enrichment and International Animal Welfare Coordinator at the Phoenix Zoo; as well a mentor for the Jane Goodall Institute. She has worked with numerous international zoos (in India, Israel, Qatar, Egypt, UAE, Mexico, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, China, and other countries) to enhance the psychological wellbeing of chimpanzees and other species.

Many international institutions in developing countries have become overwhelmed with the financial and physical demands that are required to care for these animals; too often, many of these animals are left in barren, isolated situations with meager subsidies. Hilda finds solutions by collaborating with these institutions, and their staff to create productive, healthy, mentally stimulating conditions for their animals with little to no funding. She utilizes past experiences to educate her temporary teammates about animal diet and natural behavior to enhance their understanding and encourage ongoing improvement of their husbandry techniques. Because of her passion to leave no chimp isolated, no elephant chained, or no tiger malnourished, she embraces those who may not know and teaches them that they are the voices for those who cannot speak, the guardians for those who cannot step away, and the saviors for those who cannot save themselves.