Some 600 million visitors pass through the world's zoos and aquariums every year. Now the umbrella organisation for the world zoo and aquarium community has a permanent base in Bern with a Swiss director, Peter Dollinger.
Dollinger, who has a five year extendable contract, told swissinfo one of his priorities was to try to establish what its members wanted from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
"We have national, regional and global institutions and we have to determine who is doing what type of work," he said.
"If zoos in Europe and North America are breeding a given species and this species is released into a protected habitat in South America, three regions are involved. So this would obviously be a task for the global association. On the other hand, captive breeding programmes within a region would be a typical activity of the regional association."
Advantages of Switzerland
Dollinger said the World Association would also campaign for zoological gardens to be recognised as conservation institutions.
"It is not widely understood by the general public that zoos do a tremendous amount of work in conservation - not only in breeding endangered species but also offering expertise to other organisations, providing animals for releasing and protecting habitats."
Few international organisations are based in Bern - the Universal Postal Union is a rare exception. The presence of the WZO is expected to strengthen the Swiss capital's international image. Over a period of several years, the city of Bern and the Swiss government will contribute half a million francs to the WZO's budget.
Bern beat Minneapolis, London and Vienna to become the new headquarters. "Another advantage of being in Switzerland is that we have international forum nearby like the World Conservation Union in Gland, the WWF and the CITES convention in Geneva," said Dollinger.
Until now, the Association has been run on an honorary basis. The transition to an institution with a full time secretariat is "intended to provide a better platform for international communication.
"We are going to represent the interests of the zoo world in political forum such as CITES, the UN environment programme and also try to regulate standards in the zoo world."
Dollinger joined the federal veterinary office in 1974 and was responsible for implementing the CITES convention on endangered species as well as animal welfare legislation in Switzerland. He was also head of the division of international trade.
Members of the WZO include leading zoos and aquariums and regional and national associations from around the world.
by Vincent Landon