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from the desk of dan ashe

A Lively Start

By Dan Ashe
min read

What would be lost if we didn't exist? What would be lost if we didn't work with animals in human care? How would people learn?
Craig Ivanyi, Desert Museum

It's more important to talk about how we care for the animals that we have, the amazing standards we have, and all of the evidence that we have in a way that's digestible for the general public.
Misha Body (she/her), Community Conversation panelist, California Science Center

These hotly debated animals are receiving that exact same level of care and attention, there is no difference when it comes to our capacity to fulfill our responsibility to them, or our responsibilities to complete the cycle and support conservation.
Chris Dold, Community Conversation panelist, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment

I think it is important for us to understand the role of framing that discussion in the context of empathy … put yourself in the shoes of the animal … I need to talk about these animals in a particular way that is not the way that I talk about everything else … that's the next mountain for the profession to climb, as we did with elephants.
Alejandro Grajal, Community Conversation panelist, Woodland Park Zoo

I think the main takeaway is the care of our animals is the most important thing we do. We have to ensure their lives are enriched and fulfilled as well as top veterinary care. That resonates with the public. And we need to communicate all we do to the public and why.
Gail B.

These are but a handful of comments during the Tuesday afternoon Community Conversation at AZA’s 2021 Virtual Annual Conference moderated by Denise M. Verret, chief executive officer and zoo director at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden in Los Angles, Calif. The online conversation was reflecting on Tuesday morning’s panel featuring Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, and discussing the relevancy of zoos and aquariums in today’s society.

While the panel was largely in agreement on the progress and value of accredited zoos and aquariums, particularly with regard to our educational and animal enrichment programing, some serious concerns about our ability to hold species like cetaceans and elephants were voiced. 

While much of what the Goodall panel discussed has been said before, it obviously still touches a nerve in our community. That’s a good thing—as a community we need to be able to listen and consider what people are saying. 

The Goodall panel included well known author, Dr. Carl Safina; Azzedine Downes, president and chief executive officer of the International Fund for Animal Welfare; Juliet Eilperin, senior national affairs correspondent with The Washington Post; and Susan Goldberg editor-in-chief at National Geographic and editorial director at National Geographic Partners. Each cares deeply about the natural world and the wild animals that call it home. 

Denise Verret was joined by Misha Body, director of husbandry at the California Science Center; Chris Dold, DVM, chief zoological officer at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment; Dr. Alejandro Grajal, president and chief executive officer at Woodland Park Zoo; and Clément Lanthier, DVM, president and chief executive officer at the Calgary Zoo. 

While the Goodall panel expressed a great deal of agreement and alignment with AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, we should also take note of their doubts. We may disagree, but what they say has value. Understanding how we are perceived, particularly by leading voices in the animal welfare and conservation community, can provide a real point of reflection and growth.

And judging by the passion I witnessed in the Community Conversation on Tuesday, we have a vibrant community not only willing to listen and grow, but also eager to stand up and defend the good work we are doing and will do in the future. 

Any way you look at it, it was a lively and thoughtful start to the Annual Conference.

Dan Ashe is the President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums

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