The AFZ was formerly known as the Australian Gene Storage and Research Centre of Australia (AGSRCA). The AGSRCA was established in 1995 at Monash University (with a sister site at Taronga Western Plains Zoo) aided by a start-up grant from the Australian Research Council and support from Monash University, the Zoological Parks Board of NSW and Norwood Abbey along with significant funding from a number of Australia’s leading corporations. It was the first truly national cryogenic reserve in the world and was a founding member of the International Frozen Ark consortium established in 2003. This network encompasses similar gene banks from 22 countries, comprising an expanding international collection to preserve the worlds biodiversity.
Why do we need a Frozen Zoo?
Australia has the largest number of endemic, non-fish vertebrate species on the planet. It is identified as one of the world’s “megadiverse” nations and is home to 15 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage listed natural sites.
As a nation, we have a less than exemplary record when it comes to protecting our natural heritage and since European settlement our rate of extinction of species remains the highest in the world. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists 33 Australian animal species as extinct, although the actual number of extinct species is likely to be much higher and many more species remain in danger. As of 2014, Australia’s threatened species list stands at 55 mammal species, 47 bird species, 43 reptile species, 47 amphibian species, and 106 fish species, many of which are considered critically endangered in their native habitat.
There are individual and collaborative efforts between Australian zoos, non-government organisations, research institutions, and state and federal governments to preserve a number of Australian species that are most immediately at risk of extinction. These programs aim to preserve the habitat of endangered species and to collect and breed examples of them in zoos and related facilities. These breeding programs are vitally important, but restricted in space and can only hold limited numbers of animals from a limited number of species. That’s where the AFZ comes in. For comparatively little cost, we can maintain a large collection of viable cells from many more individuals of many different species. These cells will be invaluable to assist breeding programs now and far into the future; many of our samples will outlive the animals they represent.
Our link to conservation
Research techniques and assisted reproductive technologies are becoming more powerful and sophisticated year on year. Such technologies enable deeper understanding of the biology of animals and the potential to preserve the world around us. Maintaining a comprehensive collection of frozen living cells ensures that genetic material from endangered species can be preserved for future generations.
The AFZ has links throughout Australia and has the expertise, facilities and resources available to assist national and international conservation programs.
The AFZ incorporates a number of key activities to assist wildlife conservation. These include:
- Maintenance of a frozen reserve of reproductive cells and tissues from native and exotic animals available for research and breeding programs
- Help and advice on the recommended methods for collecting and transporting samples for storage in the AFZ
- The processing, freezing and storage of samples
- Scientific and technical assistance in the use of these samples in assisted reproduction procedures
- Specialised consultation service by the professional and technical staff of the AFZ to help improve captive and wild breeding of the target species