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SAFE Taking Action

By Gillian Cannataro
min read

Biologically, songbirds, butterflies, and chimpanzees may not have too much in common, but they are alike in that they face similar threats and population declines, leaving them more susceptible to extinction. They are also all a part of AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction, which brings them together by harnessing the collective strengths of Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities, alongside other partners, to grow conservation impact, and effectively save species. SAFE North American Songbird (NAS), North American Monarch, and Chimpanzee have made great strides in the difficult year that was 2020, including the publication of their respective three-year program plans.

SAFE North American Songbird

Distinct from other SAFE avian species programs, SAFE NAS focuses on over 300 species in the order Passeriformes that spend part of their annual cycle in North America. Songbird population declines in North America persist due to habitat loss, climate change, building collisions, and predation from outdoor domestic cats.

SAFE NAS builds on existing member initiatives for songbird conservation and combats several threats by minimizing bird collisions with glass at AZA facilities and encouraging visitors to adopt best practices at home, increasing effective messaging regarding domestic cat impacts on wildlife, preserving and building native habitats on AZA members’ grounds and in the communities they serve, reducing contaminants that affect North American songbirds, increasing bird friendly behavior through education and creating empathy, and ending the trafficking of North American songbirds.

According to the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) and the SAFE NAS program, these are some inexpensive and local solutions to the major conservation threats that affect songbirds:

  • Use bird-friendly window treatments
  • Keep cats indoors to prevent predation of songbirds
  • Reduce evening lighting during peak migratory seasons
  • Purchase certified Bird Friendly Coffee© to preserve neotropical bird wintering grounds
  • Select grass-fed beef to help save grassland birds
  • Purchase certified sustainable paper products to help preserve the nesting grounds of boreal forest songbirds
  • Participate in native songbird citizen science projects and Urban Bird Treaty activities in cities
  • Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day annually

Join SAFE NAS as they preserve native songbird species and tackle critical conservation issues. To help implement the SAFE North American Songbird Program Plan, contact Sara Hallager at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Michael Kreger at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio, or reach out to to learn how you can become a SAFE North American Songbird Program Partner.

SAFE North American Monarch

monarch butterfly

In the last year, SAFE Monarch has focused on inclusive engagement of all interested AZA member facilities as well as external expert monarch conservation organizations. With monarch butterflies in so many local communities and backyards, SAFE Monarch quickly grew into the largest SAFE program to date, involving more than 100 partners.

SAFE Monarch followed the IUCN/SSC Conservation Planning Specialist Group processes for thorough discussions of the status of North American monarch butterflies, their threats, and activities to address the threats. By engaging all partner organizations in these processes, SAFE Monarch built strong buy-in for the shared conservation goals. Through this effort, they collectively developed 15 activities in their program plan as options for participating organizations, including: prioritizing activities that zoos and aquariums can do to engage their visitors and members—from planting breeding habitat full of milkweed and nectar flowers, to reducing pesticides and taking part in community science.

Monarch butterfly populations face steep declines due to habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change throughout the continent, making widespread collaboration crucial for recovering and sustaining this species. Their goals for addressing these priority threats are to promote the supply and use of native, pesticide-free milkweed in each region; increase the number of milkweed plants across monarch range; promote wildlife friendly landscaping in urban, suburban, and rural areas; and ease migration and resilience-capability in the face of climate change through increased habitat connectivity.

Join SAFE Monarch as they inspire action throughout communities and launch conservation efforts across the continent for monarchs. To help implement the SAFE North American Monarch Program Plan, contact Dr. Lily Maynard at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Bay Lake, Fla., and Paige Howorth at San Diego Zoo in San Diego, Calif., or reach out to to learn how you can become a SAFE North American Monarch Program Partner.

SAFE Chimpanzee


Despite global disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, SAFE Chimpanzee has made great progress in their first year. Conservation efforts encompass all four subspecies of chimpanzees, including western, Nigeria-Cameroon, central, and eastern chimpanzees. The program will address three primary threats to chimpanzees: poaching, habitat loss, and infectious disease outbreaks.

The overarching goals outlined in the recent program plan are to increase collaboration amongst AZA facilities and other conservation organizations to combat chimpanzee population decline, increase public/stakeholder engagement in and awareness of chimpanzee conservation efforts, and create additional funding opportunities to address chimpanzee conservation concerns.

Program partner organizations work across highly variable ecological and cultural landscapes in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, and Uganda. To provide data to clarify and mitigate chimpanzee conservation threats across the regions, SAFE Chimpanzee is working to unite the four field sites in concerted action through the implementation of two monitoring systems: SMART (a spatial monitoring and reporting tool) and Animal Observer health tracking.

Individually, each of the four field sites will continue vital work for chimpanzee conservation. In Sierra Leone, the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project is primarily concentrated on promoting human-wildlife coexistence in highly disturbed habitat through multiple mitigation strategies. In Nigeria, the Wildlife Conservation Society strengthens ranger presence in the forests and engages in innovative community outreach programs, such as cocoa planting and bush mango production. In the Republic of Congo, the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project conducts research, establishes partnerships to affect regional and global policies, and builds the capacity of national conservationists to sustain these efforts. Finally, in Uganda, the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project protects a large and important population of chimpanzees through snare-removal and anti-poaching patrols in Kibale National Park, while also working with various agencies to increase the conservation ethos in the region. Back at home, SAFE Chimpanzee has made a number of inroads for public engagement by developing social toolkits, new partnerships, and fundraisers.

Join SAFE Chimpanzee as they strengthen effective chimpanzee conservation. To be involved in helping to implement the SAFE Chimpanzee Program Plan, contact Dr. Christina Cloutier Barbour at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Fla., and Dr. Steve Ross at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Ill., or reach out to to learn how you can become a SAFE Chimpanzee Program Partner.

While these three species require unique conservation strategies and tools, being a part of SAFE has streamlined these needs as their programs bring together AZA members and their communities, government partners, and other organizations to make a difference. With newly published three-year program plans that describe shared goals and clear action items, each welcomes and will benefit from additional partners. Get involved by reaching out to the program leaders, and visit AZA SAFE to learn more.

First Photo Credit: © Eric Peterson

Gillian Cannataro is the program assistant for conservation and science at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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