SAFE Stories

Image of the logo SAFE Saving Animals From ExtinctionThe Association of Zoos & Aquariums, with its member aquariums and zoos and a variety of partners, are taking action to save species through AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. SAFE combines the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA members and partners, all focused on saving species. Our collective action will help save vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protect them for future generations.


Soaring with SAFE: An Update on the SAFE African Vulture Program

Author: Kayla Ripple, AZA SAFE Coordinator
SAFE African Vulture Program Leader: Dr. Corinne J. Kendall, Curator of Conservation and Research, North Carolina Zoo
SAFE African Vulture Vice Program Leader: Dr. Graeme Patterson, Vice President for Field Conservation, Denver Zoo
Image Credit: Corinne Kendall/North Carolina Zoo

Conservation collaboration within the AZA community continues to grow through SAFE. Through the development of three-year SAFE Program Plans, our members set priorities and build strategies that garner multi-institutional support and engagement. The SAFE African Vulture Program Plan was approved in March 2018, and is helping to conserve six species of African vulture threatened with extinction. The program identified priorities for African vulture population monitoring, poisoning prevention, collision prevention, rehabilitation, public engagement, fundraising, and capacity building in range countries. Considerable progress has been made in just six months, targeting four countries of high conservation significance for African vultures – Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa. Four new Program Partners have joined during this time, for a total of 14 AZA-accredited institutions currently unified in African vulture conservation priorities. Here’s a glance at what our members and collaborators have been up to!

New mass survey efforts are underway to assess populations in previously understudied areas. These include helicopter surveys of Ruppell’s vulture cliff nests in Northern Kenya and surveys through the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania – Africa’s largest game reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Six students are supported in all four target countries to further these research efforts, and a groundbreaking study updating the status of vultures in Botswana was published recently.

Community groups and rangers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana were trained in efforts to reduce poisoning, as well as in the use of telemetry studies to assess vulture mortality rates. Efforts to mitigate collisions with powerlines are underway in Kenya and South Africa, where the threat is greatest. Rehabilitation and captive breeding projects have resulted in the release of over 50 vultures in South Africa.

The program is raising awareness in the U.S. by developing materials that zoos, aquariums, and partners can incorporate into their conservation communications. On September 1, International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) engaged more than 110 organizations globally and at least 14 AZA-accredited institutions, reaching over 2 million people. Surveys after IVAD revealed that these efforts helped to improve the awareness and attitudes of guests towards vultures. Next year, the team hopes to develop and include materials detailing how our guests can contribute directly to these conservation efforts.

The SAFE African vulture program aligned their strategies with the Convention on Migratory Species’ Multi-Species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian vultures. Using these priorities, the team outlined clear methodologies that have allowed them to contribute $100,000 to projects currently, and secure funding to build the projects further. Three projects were awarded funding through the AZA Conservation Grants Fund and two were awarded funding through National Geographic’s “Recovering Species on the Brink of Extinction” grant program for work in 2019.

Saving a species (let alone six) can be hard work, but the SAFE African vulture team is well on their way to getting there. There are many opportunities to be involved in helping to implement the SAFE African Vulture Program Plan. Please contact Corinne Kendall and Graeme Patterson, or reach out to to learn how you can become a Program Partner for the SAFE African vulture program.

Originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Connect Magazine. 

at Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Making connections and sharing resources to save critically endangered orangutans

Author: Ronda Schwetz, Executive Zoo Director at Henry Vilas Zoo, Orangutan SSP Field Committee Chair, SAFE Orangutan Program Leader

Poster depicting a orangutan peering through tree branches with headline "Saving Animals From Extinction"Wild orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra are considered critically endangered under the IUCN Red List. These species face constant pressure of extinction due to many complex issues such as loss of habitat, illegal mining and logging, and high consumer demand for palm oil found in many consumer products. These factors also contribute to the illegal pet trade which leaves many wild orangutan infants without their mothers and in unsuitable living conditions. Several rehabilitation and rescue centers have been established to focus on the rehabilitation and release of orphaned and injured orangutans in their range countries.

The SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction orangutan program was launched in 2018 to focus on these threats and how AZA institutions can assist in the recovery of the species. Founding AZA institutions include Henry Vilas Zoo, Kansas City Zoo, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, and Seneca Park Zoo. The SAFE orangutan three-year action plan was recently submitted for review and approval through the Wildlife Conservation Committee. Much of the work that will be done under this plan adopts and supports long-standing orangutan conservation initiatives led by the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP)® program. As part of these efforts, to benefit wild and rehabilitant orangutans, AZA members participate in SSP-led field trips to Asian zoos and orangutan rescue centers. These trips have been occurring for over 10 years and have facilitated information exchange focused on training, husbandry, and enrichment among professional colleagues for rehabilitated orangutans in range countries. Other efforts include donations of equipment and medicine, professional exchanges with caretakers and veterinary staff, global education awareness of the issues impacting wild orangutans, and work with local communities to develop solutions that benefit both humans and orangutans.

CREATE (Corridor Restoration for Animals Threatened and Endangered), a project started by the Kansas City Zoo and in partnership with APE Malaysia, is an excellent example of one such collaborative effort. By hiring local community members to plant, maintain and grow forest trees to link gaps in wildlife corridors, CREATE provides a sustainable way of life for local people and animals. In November 2018, a team of AZA experts from four AZA-accredited zoos traveled to Northeast Borneo to help not only with the habitat restoration efforts but also to work with a local zoo on how to enhance their animal welfare. To offset the consequences of unsustainable slash and burn agriculture practices, participants planted 130 trees and performed maintenance on another 300 trees that will eventually grow to expand habitat for the animals, including orangutans, which live there.   

Investing in trips like this and providing extra people-power for these projects can be a great benefit for all who participate. Facilities on both ends, expand their knowledge and networking, which ultimately results in better orangutan care, habitat conservation, and even release back into the wild. AZA professionals who take part in the trips come back able to enthusiastically share their conservation and welfare efforts with visitors at their zoo, as well as engage their own staff to share this experience. To learn more about these efforts or to get involved, visit The Orangutan SSP website or the AZA SAFE species page.

Originally published in the February 2019 issue of Connect Magazine. 

Poster art designed by Frank Fallano. 

at Monday, June 24, 2019

Sea turtles have friends in Houston.

Along the upper Texas coast, sea turtles frequent beaches to nest in April, May, and June every year. But sometimes sea turtles are in perilous situations that require immediate medical attention. Sea turtles have been found in the area that have swallowed fish hooks, are entangled in shoe laces, plastic bags, or other debris. The Sea Turtle Standing and Salvage Network, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and partners, is on call 24/7 and responds during all hours of the day and night. But rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles can take weeks, months, or even years and sound partnerships are the key to success. The Houston Zoo provides pro bono medical services, including surgery and other expensive procedures. The Houston Zoo Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Joe Flanagan, is always on call and conducts life-saving procedures at a facility in Galveston, Texas. The facility is especially overwhelmed during the winter months when cold-stunning events can occur. Cold-stunning occurs when sea turtles experience symptoms similar to hypothermia in humans due to long exposure to cold waters. Sea turtles can die from cold-stunning, and having Dr. Flanagan and the Houston Zoo staff such as Martha Parker able to assist the Galveston facility is crucial for saving sea turtles. For an interesting story on these key persons working hard to save sea turtles, see: Sea Turtle Superheroes.

Posted by Sandra Elvin at Thursday, December 1, 2016

AZA SAFE partner Marine Mammal Commission casts a spotlight on vaquita marina through CCTV America

Peter Thomas, International and Policy Program Director at Marine Mammal Commission, discussed concerns for the critically endangered vaquita marina in a recent interview with CCTV America. The interview focused on the impacts of illegal totoaba fishing in Mexico on the vaquita, and the steps that are being taken to help protect vaquitas in the wild. The Mexican government has issued a ban on gillnets, the biggest threat to the vaquita, and is beginning to use drones in an effort to catch poachers who continue to fish illegally. As totoaba fishing is driven largely by the Chinese market, this interview is particularly significant because CCTV has a global reach. CCTV is one of 42 TV channels produced and broadcast by China Central Television, the world’s largest broadcaster with a reach of more than 1.2 billion people. The channel can be seen in more than 85 million homes across more than 100 countries and territories. To see the full interview and learn more about threats and conservation efforts surrounding the vaquita, watch the video here:

Posted by Sandra Elvin at Thursday, October 27, 2016

Updates on AZA SAFE

Below are a few updates about the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction program. 

AZA SAFE Member-Sponsored Species

The criteria for qualifying a species as an SMSS is finalized and the Implementation Task Force (ITF) is working on identifying a few model SMSS species.  The AZA Field Conservation Committee (FCC) has agreed to receive, review, and approve SMSS applications and is collaborating with the ITF to finalize the application and the approval processes which will be launched at the January 2017 Directors Policy Meeting.

AZA SAFE Conservation Action Plan (CAP) Project Coordinators

We are very happy to announce that two new SAFE CAP Project Coordinators have been confirmed since our last update.  Jim Wharton, Director of Conservation and Education at the Seattle Aquarium, will be one of the AZA SAFE Shark and Ray Conservation Action Plan Public Engagement Project Coordinators. Jim has over 20 years of experience with informal science education, program development and public awareness, as well as in shark and ray conservation and protection.

Beth Firchau, Director of Husbandry at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, will be the AZA SAFE Shark and Ray Conservation Action Plan SSP Sustainability Project Coordinator. Beth is the Marine Fishes TAG Chair and brings a deep set of knowledge and experience about SSP programs and their needs. Beth has over 20 years of experience in aquariums and has worked for many years on shark and ray conservation.

Learn more about the SAFE Signature Species: People have asked for a place where they can go to learn more about what is happening with the SAFE Signature Species and how they and their AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium can become directly involved in coordinating or collaborating on a SAFE CAP Project. To meet this need we have created species-specific SAFE Project webpages that identify critical actions to date and the project coordinators, collaborators and funders.  To find out more visit:, select the species you’re interested in, and then select the “Conservation Projects” link in the right-hand column.

AZA SAFE Resources Available

Two new tools have been created and are available for you to use. A SAFE 101 PowerPoint has been created and is available for you to brief your staff, your volunteers or your governing authority on SAFE. You can find it on the Governing Authorities Resource Center page: . In addition, a SAFE Frequently Asked Questions document has been developed. This is available in the SAFE community on the AZA network in the Resources area: NOTE: You need to be logged in to the AZA Network to access the resources.

AZA SAFE Founders Circle Update

We want to thank the 47 AZA zoos, aquariums, and commercial members who have pledged nearly $2.7+ million over three years to the Founders Circle to provide the seed money for the science, planning, and public engagement strategies for SAFE.   In particular, we thank our commercial members for their support including SSA, Miles River Direct, Schultz & Williams and Morey Consulting. We invite your participation in the Founders Circle to help us reach our $3 million goal.   For information, please contact Gregg Hudson at or Jill Nicoll at 

Quick Tips

Remember to Tag Your Posts with #SavingSpecies: Please use the #savingspecies hashtag. We are watching for your posts and sharing them with our followers. Let’s keep it up!

Join the AZA SAFE Community on the AZA Network: We utilize the AZA Network, posting updates and files available in the AZA SAFE community, which can be accessed here: . Please note that you need to be logged in to the AZA Network to access these resources.

Upcoming Calendar: AZA, working with several AZA committees, will be providing materials related to Focus Days in 2016. Thank you for helping to make World Rhino Day a success! 

December 4 – International Cheetah Day


Posted by Rob Vernon at Thursday, October 13, 2016

AZA member The Living Desert raising awareness and funds for vaquita

The Palm Desert Patch reports: During La Gran Fiesta, The Living Desert will also be raising awareness of the plight of the vaquita, the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Current estimates state there are fewer than 60 of these small porpoise left in the northern Gulf of California. The vaquitas’ major threat is entanglement in fishing gillnets. As a way to help save the vaquita, attendees at La Gran Fiesta are invited to take part in the inaugural vaquita parade. Guests are also encouraged to ‘adopt’ a vaquita to help support their recovery in the wild – adopters receive an adoption certificate, book, hat, and fact sheet – and all proceeds go to support the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) vaquita conservation action plan. Read more

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, October 7, 2016

Storied Seafood: Vaquita Conservation

Through exemplary collaboration, the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Seafood for the Future program and NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center developed Storied Seafood: Vaquita Conservation. Storied Seafood tells the story of the vaquita through the lens of a group of innovative fishermen from the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. These fishermen are working with global fishing experts, government and nongovernment organizations to develop and test non-entangling fishing gear. The new gear is expected to reduce fishery impacts on the critically endangered vaquita as well as other protected species in the region. Storied Seafood will also highlight various perspectives and efforts throughout the seafood supply chain to address specific ocean conservation issues associated with seafood. It will provide a platform from which to discuss, develop, and inform the public about collaborative solutions for healthy people and ocean ecosystems. You can learn more here:

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, September 30, 2016

Reid Park Zoo: Protecting the Vaquita

The vaquita, the smallest porpoise in the world, needs our help. In this KVOA/News 4 Tucson video, Reid Park Zoo’s Jed Dodds and Education Coordinator Jennifer discuss how the Zoo is helping the critically endangered species. Watch the video

at Friday, September 23, 2016

Calgary Zoo restores whooping crane population with advanced techniques

From Metro News Calgary: Whooping cranes nearly vanished in the mid-1900s.

Since then, the population has stabilized with the help of the Calgary Zoo and several other conservation centres across North America. So much so, that they were honoured by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums with the North American Conservation Award.

But what is it that made the program so successful? Read more ...

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, September 23, 2016

Oregon Zoo awarded for helping to save Western pond turtle

KATU-TV in Portland, Oregon, reports: The Oregon Zoo just got an award for working to save an endangered species. The zoo has been working with Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle to save the Western pond turtle. Read more...

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, September 23, 2016

Western Pond Turtles get a head start

On August 12, 2016, Woodland Park Zoo staff and ZooCorps teens joined biologists and representatives from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at a protected recovery site to release 47 juvenile western pond turtles. The 47 turtles were collected from the wild as eggs and given a head start on life under the care of Woodland Park Zoo to improve their chance of survival in the wild. Once the turtles reach about 2 ounces—a suitable size to escape the mouths of invasive predatory bullfrogs—they are returned to the wild each summer and monitored by biologists.

In 1991, the project was established to help recover this endangered species, including initiating a head starting program. In 25 years, the “turtle team” has released >2,100 turtles—boosting the wild population from 150 turtles at two sites to >1,000 turtles at six sites. Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo have together invested more than $1 million in this long-term field conservation program.

For this upcoming head start season, 85 eggs were collected and delivered to Woodland Park Zoo, 72 of which are most likely fertile. To date, 55+ have hatched.

Enjoy this feature by Evening Magazine, a program that airs nightly Monday-Friday on Seattle’s top news station, KING 5.

And enjoy Woodland Park Zoo’s new video:

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, September 9, 2016

Whooping Crane Reintroduction Effort Shifts Direction

Wisconsin Public Radio reports: There's been a major change in Wisconsin's years-long experiment to help whooping cranes. Humans wearing crane costumes are no longer teaching young birds to fly behind ultra-light aircraft. Instead, crane chicks are mostly being raised by adult cranes, in hopes that years from now, the birds become better at reproducing in the wild. Read more ...

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, September 9, 2016

15th International Elephant & Rhino Conservation and Research Symposium

The fourth joint International Elephant and Rhino Conservation and Research Symposium is a forum for elephant and rhino conservationists and researchers from around the world to present conservation projects and research outcomes, new technologies in field conservation and conflict mitigation, studies in disease, reproduction and behavior, and other issues that impact the long term survival of elephants and rhinos.  Read more
Posted by Nancy Ramos at Thursday, September 1, 2016

Zoos and Aquariums Mobilize to Save the African Penguin from Extinction in the Wild

In his National Geographic Ocean Views blog post, Ric Urban, Newport Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer and AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project Coordinator, writes about how AZA-accredited facilities are working to protect the future of African penguins: "One would think there is a problem putting these two words together “African & Penguin.”  Don’t penguins need snow and ice to survive?  Looking at the 18 species of penguins found throughout the Southern Hemisphere, many of the species live in more tropical areas, not only at the bottom of the world. There are penguins found in the Galapagos Islands, South America, New Zealand, Australia — and even Africa. I have the wonderful opportunity to work with African penguins and tell the penguin’s story of survival." Read full article

Posted by Nancy Ramos at Tuesday, August 30, 2016

WAZA and TRAFFIC Join Forces to Combat Illegal Wildlife Trade

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and TRAFFIC today signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to intensify collaboration to combat illegal wildlife trade by jointly supporting its prevention and enhancing public awareness of wildlife-trade related conservation threats.  Read more
Posted by Nancy Ramos at Thursday, August 18, 2016

World Elephant Day

Over these past five years, the AZA community invested more than $6.3 million in elephant conservation efforts, across more than 240 reported projects. Read More

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, August 12, 2016

Native endangered turtles head back to the wild August 12; State proclaims the week of August 7 as “Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project 25 - Year Anniversary”

The Woodland Park Zoo writes: "Once on the brink of extinction, the Western pond turtle--the only indigenous turtle in Puget Sound--is still here after 25 years...In celebration of 25 years of collaborative efforts to restore the population in Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee has proclaimed August 7-13, 2016 as the 'Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project 25-Year Anniversary.'" Read full article

Posted by Rob Vernon at Thursday, August 11, 2016

Aquarium, marine group plan to tag sharks off LI this month

Newsday writes: "Most people flee from sharks, but biologist Jon Forrest Dohlin wants to play tag with them off Long Island.

He will be observing as other researchers attach satellite and acoustic transmitters to as many sharks as they can find this month in a two-week expedition led by the New York Aquarium and Ocearch, the nonprofit behind the global shark tracker. They want to find out if sharks are making the waters here their nursery, their playground, their summer hangout and why." Read full article

Posted by Rob Vernon at Wednesday, August 10, 2016

One in Five Whooping Cranes Dies From Gunfire. Some Are Trying to Stop It.

Newsweek reports: Whooping cranes are majestic whie birds that stand 5 feet high, making them the tallest birds in North America. Due to hunting, their population dwindled to about 20 by the 1940s. But after coming perilously close to extinction, they've been helped back by the tremendous dedication of scientists and advocates with groups like the International Crane Foundation, based in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Read more ...

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, August 5, 2016

Saving penguins in South Africa

In his blog post, Ric Urban, Newport Aquarium Chief Conservation Officer and AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project Coordinator, writes about the involvement of several AZA-accredited facilities in African penguin conservation efforts in South Africa: " Our AZA African Penguin Tagging Team moves from the mainland to Robben Island. They’re spending 12 days in South Africa, tagging penguins and gathering data on Africa’s endangered penguins. The team includes Mike McClure from Maryland Zoo and Kylene Plemons from Sea World San Diego. Over the 12 days, the team is visiting a couple of penguin rescue and rehabilitation facilities as well as collecting data in three penguin colonies; the Robben Island colony, the Boulder’s Beach colony and the Stony Point colony." Read full article

Posted by Rob Vernon at Friday, August 5, 2016
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