AZA News Releases

AZA Selects Conservation Projects to Receive Grant Funding

Almost $730K for conservation in second year of the SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction® granting program.

Silver Spring, Md. (February 17, 2021) – The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is helping to drive almost $730,000 to four conservation projects led by AZA members in the second year of the SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction® (SAFE) granting program.

“It is exciting to witness the growth of the SAFE granting program, both in terms of the scope of the projects funded and the shared commitment by AZA members to conservation,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “Despite the extraordinary challenges of the past year, AZA members have continued their dedication to saving animals from extinction, which further demonstrates that conservation is in the DNA of modern, accredited zoos and aquariums.”

Established in 2019 with initial funding from the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation, AZA’s SAFE granting program brings funds to AZA members implementing program plans that advance species recovery. Additional funds for this year’s grants were made available through the generous support of the Disney Conservation Fund and other philanthropic and corporate contributors. Project partners bring additional matching funds, driving even more resources to saving animals from extinction.

“Receiving the SAFE grant from AZA is an incredible honor. Not only will this grant help us financially to achieve our goal of reintroducing zebra sharks to Indonesia, but it also highlights the important role zoos and aquariums play in conserving wild populations. We are excited to continue this important research and can’t wait to release our first group of zebra sharks,” said Dr. Lisa Hoopes, Director of Research, Conservation, and Nutrition at Georgia Aquarium and a project lead for In Situ Population Reinforcement of Endangered Zebra Sharks in Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia.

Eleven of 28 eligible SAFE species programs submitted a proposal for review and judges selected four projects to receive funding totaling over $165,000 in grants. With the addition of more than $560,000 in matching funds, a total of almost $730,000 will advance SAFE species program priorities and help vulnerable species. Fifteen AZA members and nine additional non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and universities will partner to complete these projects.

“We are excited and honored to receive funding from this innovative SAFE program, which will allow us to answer important questions about the devastating shell disease that has slowed the recovery of the endangered western pond turtle. Our 30-year multi-institutional collaboration has made great strides toward ensuring the survival of this species, and we’re determined to continue this important work,” said Dr. Tim Storms, an associate veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

“The Little Rock Zoo is proud to partner with the Orangutan SAFE on this important conservation effort and pleased to be working with so many of our AZA colleagues to save wildlife,” Said Susan Altrui, Little Rock Zoo Director.

AZA congratulates this year’s SAFE granting program recipients:

Ensuring Protection of the World’s Largest Black Rhino Population in the Face of the Global Corona Virus Pandemic
Richard Bergl, PhD, North Carolina Zoo
Seth Stapleton, PhD, Minnesota Zoo
Additional Collaborators: Buffalo Zoo, Etosha National Park, Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History, Little Rock Zoo, Save the Rhino Trust, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Gaining a New Understanding of Orangutans in Agricultural Mosaic Landscapes to Cause a Paradigm Shift in Conservation Strategy
Louis DiVincenti, DVM, MS, DACLAM, DACAW, Seneca Park Zoo
Brian Kutsch, Little Rock Zoo
Additional Collaborators: Birmingham Zoo, Borneo Futures, Henry Vilas Zoo, HUTAN, Maria Voight Consultant, Wildlife Impact

In Situ Population Reinforcement of Endangered Zebra Sharks (Stegostoma tigrinum) in Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia
Tim Carpenter and Erin Meyer, PhD, Seattle Aquarium
Julie Levans, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center
Leah Neal, Alistair D.M. Dove, PhD, and Lisa Hoopes, PhD, Georgia Aquarium

Investigating Shell Disease and Its Associated Pathobiome in Western Pond Turtles
Tim Storms, DVM and Kevin Murphy, Woodland Park Zoo
Kelly Flaminio, DVM, Oregon Zoo
Karen Terio, DVM, PhD, DACVP, University of Illinois
Lee Pinnell, PhD, Texas A&M University
Additional Collaborators: John G. Shedd Aquarium, Washington Department of Fish, and Wildlife and Smith Root, Inc.

SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction is AZA’s collective commitment to conservation and is delivering strategic conservation to recover and protect imperiled species by implementing recovery plans for the world’s most threatened species. SAFE’s growth, momentum, and scope are described in its 2020 Annual Report, A Shared Commitment to Conservation.

Anyone may support AZA, SAFE, and next year’s conservation projects by visiting to learn more.


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 12 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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