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The SAFE PACT: People Advancing Conservation Together

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Association of Zoos and Aquariums members are rising to the promise of the SAFE mission to combine the power of zoo and aquarium visitors to save animals from extinction. Sustained success requires integrating people-focused solutions into conservation in ways that promote social equity and more powerfully engage our audiences, including visitors and other stakeholders.

Species-based recovery plans do not consistently set targets for the role of people and communities in defining, achieving, and sustaining conservation success. The AZA community is positioned to play a positive role in this space, helping all SAFE species programs be more successful in saving animals from extinction. A clear focus on social equity can make us even more effective. Several SAFE species programs, such as North American monarchs, vaquita, and African vultures, have individually laid the groundwork to do this and we all can learn from and build on their (and other) efforts.

Integrating people into conservation solutions advances our missions and purpose. Research confirms that purposeful missions help us navigate difficult times. This work is mission-relevant, and must be accessible, effective, and efficient for members.

To meet the criteria above, a cross-section of our community has been guiding a “co-design” process to assure development by the AZA community, with the AZA community. We’re calling this SAFE PACT: People Advancing Conservation Together to spotlight the intentional commitment to integrate people into SAFE, connect and amplify existing efforts, and ultimately do more of this work with stronger conservation outcomes.


SAFE PACT is not a new initiative, a new dimension to SAFE, nor top-down. Instead, the community is coming together to find the tools, resources, and efficiencies to help us all better integrate people into conservation solutions. We are building on SAFE species programs’ work and are aligned with the SAFE mission. The inclusive co-design process engages and expands upon the work of our communities. 

Since introducing SAFE PACT during AZA’s Annual Conference in September 2020, we have held a series of focus group discussions with AZA stakeholders including representatives from several SAFE species programs, committees, and advisory groups. We held a discussion with directors during AZA’s Directors’ Policy Conference. Soon, we will send a survey to a broader swath of AZA stakeholders and begin to engage external stakeholders. Each step incorporates the input received. We will share those learnings and begin by applying them to existing programs like Party for the Planet and specific focus days within that April-June season as we proceed.

Among the input we’ve received is to respect the current and immediate challenges facing our community. We know people are negotiating constant change because of the pandemic. We’ve also heard and seen our community’s commitment to their missions. By co-designing our approach as a community, we will do more and better with existing assets. We welcome input from all stakeholders, and will test learnings with those that are able. We will be strategic, seek synergies and efficiencies, and remain committed to being relevant, accessible, and effective.

Thank you to all who have participated to date, and a thank you in advance to those that will add their insights moving forward.

For more information, please contact Shelly Grow, vice president of conservation and science at AZA.


Dr. Jackie Ogden, Natural Leadership

Shareen Knowlton, Roger Williams Park Zoo

Dr. Kayla Cranston, Antioch University New England

Dr. James Danoff-Burg, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Kait Hilliard, Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association

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