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Grant Opportunity: Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo/Aquarium

“Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” is a new collaboration between AZA and The Walt Disney Company that provides financial, logistical, and creative support for organizations and individuals seeking to increase or enhance family-centered nature experiences in their communities. As part of this initiative, AZA is offering a grant opportunity for accredited zoos and aquariums to expand their nature play programming and to create innovative ways to connect families to nature.

Free play immersed in an outdoor setting is fundamental to connecting children with the natural world around them. The value of these experiences is further reinforced when shared as a family unit. With support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, awards of $5,000 or $10,000 are available to extend existing family-based nature play programming or to create new, innovative, and engaging programs.

Any AZA-accredited institution is eligible to receive funding. Limit one application per accredited institution. Learn more and download the application here. Direct questions and send completed submissions to  by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on May 30, 2014.

Accredited zoos and aquariums are gateways through which millions of people learn about and value the rich diversity of life that is humankind’s wildlife heritage. AZA and The Walt Disney Company invite you to participate in a joint mission to build lifelong conservation values in our nation’s youth. Thank you and good luck! We look forward to you being a part of a world-wide effort to connect families to nature. 

Advocating for  Education

A vital part of AZA’s government affairs strategy is the continuing education of all Members of Congress as to the value of accredited zoos and aquariums, the vital role they play in conservation, education, recreation, tourism, job creation, and collectively as major contributors to the economy. Strengthening these relationships is vital to ensuring that zoos and aquariums will be viewed as trusted sources of conservation and environmental information.

As an educator, you are an ideal advocate for your zoo or aquarium.  You already have a lot of practice with commanding an audience’s attention, communicating important facts, and telling compelling stories about the work your institution does. Refer to the Advocacy Made Simple guide for suggestions on how to engage further in education advocacy.  Additional resources are available through the Legislative Education Center


PARIS, the Program Animal Rating and Information System, is a tool provided by the Philadelphia Zoo and AZA to share information about species used as program animals.  There are two parts - a rating system that ranks species on their suitability for use in educational programs,and a wiki that collects and stores information about program animal species.  The rating system will help you to more efficiently decide which new species you want to add to your collection, and the wiki will give you the information you need to house, handle, and present those species effectively. 

You can download the rating sheet at  While you are at that site, you can explore the wiki part of PARIS.  If you have information to contribute to the wiki, please email Stephanie Eller to be added as an editor.

Educator Resources

Studies have shown that AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums enhance the public’s understanding of wildlife and the need to conserve the places animals live. Visitors believe zoos and aquariums play an important role in conservation education and that that they experience a stronger connection to nature, are prompted to reconsider their role in environmental problems and conservation action, and see themselves as part of the solution as a result of their visit.

AZA and its Conservation Education Committee provides information, protocols, and tools to help educators manage program animal presentations, deliver consistent conservation messages, and provide thematic educational activities as a means to enhance their education program planning and raise public awareness about, and actions towards, conservation concerns.

Conservation Education Standards and Policies

Several Accreditation Standards and Board-Approved Policies have been established to ensure AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums include conservation education as a central tenet in their mission, maintain an education plan that matches current industry standards, and regularly evaluates their education programs. Read more about Conservation Education Standards and Policies.

Program Animal Presentations

AZA recognizes many benefits for public education and, ultimately, for conservation that program animal presentations provide. With these benefits, program animal presentations require a host of responsibilities, that are needed to ensure the welfare, health and safety of the animal, handlers, and public, and stress the importance of ensuring conservation take-home messages are received by the audience. Read more about Program Animal Presentations.

Children in Nature

AZA recognizes the role that zoos and aquariums can play in the Children in Nature Movement. The Conservation Education Committee's "Experiencing Nature" initiative hopes to increase recognition by visitors that our institutions provide programs and experiences that connect children to nature. Link to the Children and Nature Network to explore ways your zoo or aquarium can help support this effort.

Conservation Messages and Videos

A variety of conservation-related messages and videos are provided for your usage. Content about climate disruption, general environmental topics, polar bears, and elephants can be incorporated into exhibitry, messaging, signage, and educational materials and are designed to provide a consistent voice between AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums in their efforts to raise awareness about the topics. Read more about Conservation Messages and Videos.

Thematic Education Activities

Thematic educational activities have been developed that focus on topics of conservation concern. These resources provide ideas and inspiration for educators to incorporate into their education programs, summer camps, or specialized annual conservation initiatives, raise awareness of conservation issues and engage the public in conservation efforts. Read more about Thematic Education Activities.