AZA News Releases

AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums Supporting Projects to Halt Species Decline

Endangered Species Day puts focus on collaborative conservation efforts underway to save the world’s most vulnerable animals from extinction

Silver Spring, MD--Utilizing passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and receivers to monitor a variety of African penguins’ behaviors, assisting with the testing of alternative fishing gear choices to reduce vaquita bycatch in the Upper Gulf of California, and developing and implementing effective methods for identifying, treating and preventing shell disease in Western pond turtle populations in North America are just three of the 36 projects aquariums and zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are supporting through the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) initiative.

“According to a recent study, there are only about 60 vaquita porpoises left in the world. That means we could be the last generation to ever see this animal again – once it is gone, it is gone forever,” said Kris Vehrs, Interim President and CEO of AZA. “The professionals working at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums around the globe have unanimously said ‘we must do more and we must do it better’ and are now, through SAFE, working in a coordinated fashion toward collective impact that assures the extinction of animals, like the vaquita, never happens. It’s a responsibility we all share to this planet.”

In 2015, the leadership of the AZA-accredited zoo and aquarium community identified 10 SAFE Signature Species on which to focus planning and conservation action. These include African penguin, Asian elephant, black rhinoceros, cheetah, gorilla, sea turtle, sharks, vaquita, western pond turtle, and whooping crane.

Since that time, strategic meetings with experts from the AZA zoological community, non-profit conservation organizations, and government agencies, have occurred to identify current population threats and the conservation actions needed to address them. SAFE Conservation Action Plans have been developed for the African penguin, cheetah, western pond turtle, sharks, and vaquita, and include 36 critically important conservation projects with more to come. Some are already underway in the field.

“SAFE uses a unique and bold approach to engage conservationists working to save a species in a collaborative process to prioritize conservation needs,” said Dr. Debborah Luke, AZA Senior VP of Conservation and Science. “It then incorporates the wide-ranging expertise of AZA members in wild animal management, care, research and conservation directly into critical conservation efforts. By working together, our goal is to save the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protect them for future generations.”

According to Steve Burns, AZA Board Chair and Executive Director of Zoo Boise, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are centers of conservation that collectively contribute over $154 million annually to field conservation efforts of nearly 800 species. Adding that a visit to a local zoo and aquarium is a conservation action in and of itself, “It is important for people to understand that when they visit an AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium, not only are they going to have a great experience, but they are also supporting thousands of people working in the field to save endangered species.”

Since its launch, SAFE has received significant support from corporations, including Frito-Lay North America, ALEX AND ANI, Unite for Literacy, and Zebra Pen. These corporations have come on board to help save species from extinction by helping raise awareness of SAFE through national campaigns reaching millions of consumers.

“We believe that all children should have access to an abundance of books that celebrate culture and diversity. It is because of content creation partners like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that make this possible,” says Michael McGuffee, Unite for Literacy CEO.

AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums welcome over 183 million guests a year who have an opportunity to experience, connect with and care about thousands of species they would likely never see otherwise in the wild. Studies show that visits to zoos and aquariums prompt guests to reconsider their role in environmental problems, take conservation action, and help to see themselves as part of the solution. Additional global studies also suggest that viewing charismatic wildlife can influence the public's connection to a species, resulting in a willingness to participate in pro-conservation behavior – an important part of AZA's mission.

To learn more about the SAFE Signature Species and the projects AZA members are working on, visit

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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