Millions of people visit zoos and aquariums each year to catch a glimpse of rare and exciting wildlife from around the globe.
Increasingly, visitors are also finding educational exhibits and demonstration habitats about local flora and fauna. The goal is to inspire guests to not only learn, but also then take action at home and in the community to create sustainable wildlife habitats for songbirds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife.
To date, more than 80 Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoos and aquariums have a Certified Wildlife Habitat™ exhibit or garden, including the Denver Zoo in Denver, Colo., which was recognized as the program’s 200,000 Certified Wildlife Habitat in 2016.
This spring, through AZA’s Party for the Planet, more than 100 AZA-accredited zoos, aquariums and their partners, across North America and abroad, created and restored habitat for wildlife with help from National Wildlife Federation's Garden for Wildlife™ program. This resulted in dozens of additional certifications across North America.
Let’s take a closer look at some other exemplary Certified Wildlife Habitats at zoos and aquariums across North America:
Credit: David Coffey, National Aquarium
The National Aquarium
“As a focal point at the entrance of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, our Certified Wildlife Habitat creates the opportunity for us to begin our dialogue around conservation before our guests even enter our building,” said Laura Bankey, vice president of conservation program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md. “The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Waterfront Park uses interpretive signs to highlight the actions visitors can take at their own homes to support wildlife. The natural beauty of the native plants and the long list of pollinators, birds, mammals, and other wildlife observed in the park attests to its power to create opportunities for humans and wildlife to coexist, even in urban areas.
“As the only AZA organization that is also a state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, we understand both the urgent threats to our wildlife and the role each of us has to play in reversing those threats. In support of that work, we not only certified habitats on our own campus but were instrumental in supporting the City of Baltimore in becoming a Certified Community Wildlife Habitat.”
Sequoia Park Zoo
“We first created a pollinator garden as part of our partnership towards the Oregon silverspot butterfly conservation program,” said Grethchen Ziegler, Zoo director of Sequoia Park Zoo in Eureka, Calif. “As our awareness expanded about the value and plight of all insects, we embarked on a larger initiative to convert most of the Zoo’s landscaping to plants native to our region. It has been enthusiastically embraced by our community.”
Zoo Miami's Pollinator Garden
“Zoo Miami grounds is more than just a botanical garden, it is an oasis for people, our animal residents and wildlife,” said Frank Ridgley, Zoo conservation and veterinary services manager at Zoo Miami in Miami, Fla. “We continue to provide habitat for wildlife through enhancement of our artificial lakes with native fish and over 30,000 native aquatic plants, custom artificial roosts for our resident colonies of the federally endangered Florida bonneted bat, restoration of critically endangered pine rockland habitat surrounding the Zoo and creating native pollinator gardens along the public walkways.”
Staten Island Zoo's Certified Wildlife Habitat
Staten Island Zoo
“When creating the pollinator garden, our goals were to educate the public on the importance of pollinators, as well as create habitat for native bees, butterflies, and birds found on Staten Island,” said Jessica Pownall Hartman, director of education at the Staten Island Zoological Society in Staten Island, N.Y. “Of course, we also wanted to add a beautiful exhibit to the Zoo! The plant species included are all native to the Northeast U.S.
“The creation of the garden was a joint effort with students from Kean University for their capstone project, Youth B.U.I.L.D. Staten Island, and our horticulturalist Jim Rives. We’ve seen many pollinators visiting the garden, including monarch butterflies, bumblebees, clouded sulphur butterflies, and green bottle flies. Last year, we even had a hummingbird build a nest in the garden!"
As we learn about more how plants and animals are impacted by climate change, habitat destruction, and all types of pollution, these sometimes small but mighty habitats created by AZA members, partners, and families are beacons of hope for creating healthy habitats for all to enjoy and thrive in.
You can certify your habitat online with the National Wildlife Federation website.
Hero photo credit: Sequoia Park Zoo
Patrick Fitzgerald is the senior director of community wildlife for the National Wildlife Federation.
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