AZA News Releases

AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums Mobilize to End Extinction of the World’s Most Vulnerable Species

Silver Spring, MD - The 229 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced today a bold new effort focused on saving species from extinction and restoring them to healthy sized populations in the wild. SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction will deepen the already substantial science and conservation work on endangered species occurring at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums by engaging the 180 million annual aquarium and zoo visitors and partners across the world to protect habitat, decrease threats, and restore populations to sustainable levels. 

To mark the launch of SAFE and to begin engaging the public in this important work, today, May 15, the tenth anniversary of Endangered Species Day, endangered animals at many AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums across the country will “vanish” – their exhibits closed or curtained off or otherwise marked to illustrate what is at stake if no action is taken. At each exhibit where the endangered species have “vanished,” visitors will receive information about how they can take steps to support conservation and ensure that these important species are protected for generations to come. 

 “At its core, SAFE represents a new and unique opportunity to combat the extinction crisis and save vital species,” said Jim Maddy, President and CEO of AZA. “With thousands of scientists and conservationists--more than any other single conservation organization--750,000 animals in their care, and more access to the public to the tune of 180 million visitors annually, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are poised to make a tremendous difference.”

The leadership of the AZA-accredited zoo and aquarium community has worked intensively over the past two years, reviewing the science to identify more than 100 species that are facing serious threats. These species are critical to maintaining overall ecosystems, and zoos and aquariums have unique scientific expertise and resources to improve their conservation status. In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 key species from that list: ·         

African Penguin;·         

Asian Elephants;·         

Black rhinoceros;·         



Sea Turtles;·         

Sharks and rays;·         


Western pond turtle; and·         

Whooping Crane 

Every year for at least the next decade, 10 or more species will be added to SAFE based on the most current science and the availability of resources. 

For more than 100 years, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been leaders in species survival and are already working to restore more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor, the black footed ferret and a number of aquatic species. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums collaboratively manage more than 450 Species Survival Plan® programs, as well as are investing more than $160 million each year in field conservation work in more than 100 countries across the globe. The worsening and accelerating extinction crisis, which many scientists refer to as the “Sixth Extinction,” challenged AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to significantly increase their efforts.

“In many cases, the science and conservation community knows what must be done to save these species and many independently managed efforts have been initiated to tackle one or more areas of focus at a time,” said Dennis Pate, AZA Board Chair and Executive Director and CEO of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.  “We will convene all partners working on saving the AZA SAFE species, who will collaboratively identify and prioritize the essential conservation actions needed. We will then provide the resources and mobilize our 180 million visitors to help save these species and restore them to sustainable populations in the wild.”

“For years, we have worked closely with AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, but SAFE is really a game changer for us,” said Dr. Stephen van der Spuy, Executive Director at SANCCOB, the South African non-profit that is leading the effort to protect African penguins and other sea birds in South Africa. “By strategically focusing the work of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, by bringing new resources, and by engaging the millions of zoo and aquarium visitors in saving African penguins, we’re confident that SAFE can help make a real impact at saving these birds from extinction.” 

This bold, comprehensive approach is already attracting significant support. Initially, SAFE launched with a $1 million challenge grant from noted conservationists Mark and Kimbra Walter. Since then, the challenge has been successfully matched and their gift has continued to generate additional philanthropic interest and investment in this critical initiative.

SAFE has also drawn significant corporate support from ALEX AND ANI, FishFlops® and Frito-Lay North America. ALEX AND ANI, the Rhode Island based eco-conscious lifestyle brand, created a penguin charm as part of their award-winning CHARITY BY DESIGN® program, and it has already become a top seller, generating funds that support conservation work at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. In the same spirit of giving back, 17-year-old entrepreneur Madison Nicole Robinson, creator of the popular children’s line of shoes FishFlops®, is creating a special line of flip flops and slippers to benefit SAFE, with a portion of her sales going directly to SAFE conservation projects. As an AZA partner, Frito-Lay North America is rallying families’ support for SAFE with a commitment to match every dollar donated to the cause through, up to a maximum of $100,000, through June 15, 2015. In addition to matching donations made through the site, Frito-Lay will donate $1 for each social share, per person, per day, of an endangered animal fact made through the site in an effort to encourage families to spread awareness about the important cause. Donations for social shares will also count towards Frito-Lay’s maximum $100,000 donation.

"Fun is at the heart of everything we do and it’s what we hope to inspire with our variety packs of snacks,” said Ryan Matiyow, senior director of marketing, Frito-Lay. “Through our partnership with AZA, we’re able to bring families around their shared passion for animals and to support a cause that will help ensure families can experience the wonder of wildlife for generations to come.” 

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and seven other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

About SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction

SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and partners to save animals from extinction. Together we are working on saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. To learn more, visit

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