AZA 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.


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Celebrating Five Years of Cheetah Conservation…and the recipe for future success

The Endangered Wildlife Trust writes: "Cheetah once occurred in large and connected populations that stretched all the way from South Africa up to Egypt and westwards to Senegal. Today, these populations have become severely fragmented into 29 subpopulations, with only one population estimated to number more than 1000 individuals. This is in large part due to the rapid growth of the human population – in Africa, this population has increased from approximately 100 million people in 1850 to 1.2 billion today and will continue to grow over the coming years, while during the same period, the resident range of the Cheetah decreased by 89%. Continued substantial growth of the human population will mean further habitat loss for Cheetah, further fragmentation of existing habitat, further loss of prey, more retaliatory killings due to livestock predation and more illegal trade in Cheetah as they are sought for pets by the ever expanding elite in the developing world.

This outlook may seem depressing, but all hope is not lost." Read full article

Posted by Jen Fields at Friday, July 29, 2016

Monterey Bay Aquarium joins fight to save endangered porpoise

An article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel highlights efforts helping to protect the vaquita: "The Monterey Bay Aquarium has joined the international fight to save the vaquita, the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise.

The 100-pound, 5-foot long, toothed whale only lives in the northern pocket of the Gulf of California, Mexico. Only 60 remain in the wild." Read full article

Posted by Jen Fields at Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Living Desert's Director of Education Named Public Engagement Coordinator for the Cheetah Conservation Action Plan

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens writes: "The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is proud to announce its director of education, Mike Chedester, has been appointed public engagement coordinator for the Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) Cheetah Conservation Action Plan.

The SAFE program, initiated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), is an outreach plan that focuses the collective expertise of all accredited zoos and aquariums to leverage their large audiences, including members, partners, donors, staff and attendees, to help save species. Participants in the SAFE programs help identify the threats, develop action plans, raise new resources and engage the public." Read full article  

Posted by Jen Fields at Monday, July 25, 2016

What Do Penguin Keepers do on Summer Break?

The SeaWorld team writes in their blog post about collaborative efforts working to help African penguins: "This week a group of experts from the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund (SWBGCF), Maryland Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) traveled to South Africa to study African penguins, an endangered species, with the goal of tagging and tracking 10% of the wild population and 100% of all rescued, rehabilitated and released penguins. And you’re probably asking why tagging these cool birds is important..." Read full article 

Posted by Jen Fields at Friday, July 22, 2016

SAFE Western Pond Turtle Video

Learn more about the effort to save the Western pond turtle from extinction.

at Thursday, July 14, 2016

AZA SAFE Partners with Frito-Lay

School is out, summer is in session and families across the country are looking for their next great adventure. To encourage the exploration, Frito-Lay 2 Go® multipacks and Quaker® Chewy bars are taking families from the depths of the ocean to the treetops of a rainforest through a partnership with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Starting this week through October 20, families can receive a free kid's pass to participating AZA-accredited facilities nationwide with the purchase of a Frito-Lay 2 Go or Quaker Chewy Bar Variety Pack.

The partnership also helps promote the program AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction, through a $250,000 donation from Quaker Chewy and Frito-Lay 2 Go Variety Packs. Read more

at Wednesday, July 6, 2016

AZA Members Work on Rhinoceros Conservation

Between 2010-2014 alone, 78 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums reported investing over $4.2 million towards rhinoceros conservation - with more than $1.5 million directly benefiting black rhinos. Read more.
Posted by Rob Vernon at Monday, June 27, 2016

It's Sea Turtle Day!

Today, AZA members are celebrating Sea Turtle Day! Between 2011 and 2015, 62 AZA-accredited zoos & aquariums took part in a variety of field conservation projects targeting six of the seven extant sea turtle species: the green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and Pacific ridley sea turtles. Over these past five years, the AZA community invested nearly $16 million in sea turtle conservation efforts, across approximately 150 reported projects. Read More

Posted by Rob Vernon at Thursday, June 16, 2016

Shark Fin Sales Banned in Rhode Island

The Associated Press reports that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has signed into law a ban on selling shark fins. The law takes effect in January and makes it a crime in Rhode Island to own or sell a shark fin unless it's used for scientific research or in preparing a shark for ordinary consumption. Read more

at Tuesday, June 14, 2016

AZA SAFE Signature Species Update: Cheetah

The AZA SAFE Cheetah Conservation Work Plan has been finalized, incorporating feedback from a core team of stakeholders, and a AZA SAFE Cheetah Call for Participation webinar presentation was given on Thursday, May 26. The conservation projects that have been identified for cheetah were outlined and ways that AZA zoos, aquariums and individual members can participate in their implementation were reviewed. The Call for Participation document and a recording of the webinar have been uploaded to the AZA SAFE cheetah webpage, which will assist with discussions about AZA member participation. Should you have questions about any of the projects or be interested in working on one of the SAFE Cheetah projects, please contact Joel Merriman at

at Thursday, June 9, 2016

Celebrating Whooping Crane Day

AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos are working together to help save Whooping Cranes! We are proud to have the International Crane Foundation as a member of AZA, and are excited to help promote their 'I Give A Whoop' campaign. Learn more
Posted by Rob Vernon at Saturday, May 28, 2016

AZA SAFE Vaquita Partner Update: Wild Lens, Inc.

Souls of the Vermilion Sea: Searching for the Vaquita from Wild Lens on Vimeo.

Wild Lens, Inc., an AZA SAFE partner organization, is currently developing a feature-length documentary titled “Souls of the Vermilion Sea” to raise awareness about the plight of the vaquita and to highlight some crucial vaquita conservation efforts. To begin engaging audiences beforehand, they recently released a shorter, fourteen-minute film titled “Searching for the Vaquita”, focusing on the Vaquita Survey Mission that took place in late 2015. This featurette delves into day-to-day life on the survey vessel Ocean Starr, in addition to sharing viewpoints on vaquita recovery efforts from both conservation experts and local fisherman. We encourage you to view and share the video. It can be viewed in English at, and in Spanish at

at Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A new partnership with GRASP

AZA is proud to partner with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP)! We are honored to be the 103rd partner for GRASP and excited to support their efforts to conserve non-human great apes in the wild, through the lens of protecting gorillas through AZA SAFE. Read more...

Posted by Rob Vernon at Thursday, May 19, 2016

Column: Let’s Talk About Birds: Saving African penguins from extinction

The National Aviary Education Team writes in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column: "African penguins are superheroes of the feathered variety. They have recently been named a signature species for SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction, a program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The program harnesses the collective power of all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, like the National Aviary, to support conservation programs for 10 specific critically endangered species, including the African penguin. By breaking down larger international goals of conservation into smaller projects, SAFE enables zoos and aquariums and their visitors to have a more lasting conservation impact." Read full article

at Wednesday, May 11, 2016

African Penguin Artificial Nest Development Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa

By: Kevin Graham
Bird Supervisor – Dallas Zoo
AZA SAFE Artificial Nest Development Project Coordinator

In March 2016 a workshop in Cape Town, South Africa was held bringing together people and organizations from around the globe with the sole purpose of examining the nesting needs and current challenges of African penguins.  Along with the Dallas Zoo’s VP of Education and Conservation, Dr. Patty McGill, I had the privilege of meeting with the numerous people who work in the field and in South African zoological facilities with these penguins. This included all of the colony managers and many field biologists from South Africa, researchers from several universities, all involved government and non-government organizations (Cape Nature, SANPARKS, SANCCOB, and Birdlife International), and representatives from PAZAA and AZA. 

To ensure that communication chains were well formed during the process, the entire group representing the South African community pursuing the recovery of the penguins voted during the workshop to nominate a single person as their coordinator that AZA SAFE will use as the primary point of contact.  This person, Trudi Malan from the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, is responsible for ensuring communication through the entire working group in South Africa maintains at a high level.  To facilitate this, it was decided that all involved would be added to an information sharing site (Freedcamp) that would be utilized for information exchange.  Not every person will choose to be involved at every level of the artificial nest development, but every person will have the opportunity to do so if they choose.

For quite some time, AZA SAFE will continue to coordinate with this working group to develop a crucial nesting plan to help the birds reverse the population decline as one part in a multi-tiered approach to species recovery.  Over the past 100 years, the population of African penguins has declined from more than two million breeding pairs to slightly more than 20,000 breeding pairs left, even with over two decades of work to try to stem the tide having already occurred. This dramatic decline has resulted from many factors, unfortunately all of which are human-related and this group has come together to attempt to reverse the trend. 

In the recent past, organizations and colony managers in South Africa have made several attempts to develop an artificial nest design that African penguins could use to supplement the little remaining nesting habitat.  These attempts have seen very limited success, and in some attempts they inadvertently introduced new challenges for the penguins. In many cases, the penguins chose not to use the nesting structures, either due to overall design, excessive heat accumulation, ectoparasite buildup in the structure, and other potentially unknown factors.  In some locations, this has led penguins to nest on the surface, exposing their eggs and chicks to additional risks that were previously avoided in the guano burrow nests.

Among other risks (predation being one key risk), exposed surface nests face the challenge of temperature extremes not found in the burrow nests, where temperatures are regulated by the geothermic action of the surrounding substrate. This leads to a higher rate of nest abandonment when the climate is unsuitable for the adults to continue their nesting attempt.

The working group of approximately two dozen people teamed up for a full day conference with the sole focus on improving the nesting quality of the penguins.  Sessions included evaluating the current situation, brainstorming ideas for future designs, evaluating the unique challenges that each individual colony faces, etc.  After a long day, the future goals of the working group were established and the path forward towards the development of the new artificial nest design was set. 

Following the conclusion of the workshop, numerous days were spent in many of the various colonies talking with colony managers, wildlife biologists, and researchers to gain a clearer perspective of what challenges each of the colonies currently faces.  For some colonies, the primary challenge in nesting for the penguins was almost solely usable nest locations, while others had that in addition to risks of thermal management, predation, parasite infestation, and human resource usages (boat ramps, housing, etc.).  It was acknowledged both during the workshop and in the field that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to the design of the artificial nest. 

at Sunday, May 1, 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 Sunday, January 31, 2016

SAFE African Penguin Video

Learn more about efforts to save the African penguin from extinction.

at Friday, May 15, 2015
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