As members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, we have a deep passion for the welfare and protection of animals, but while many of us within our community have dedicated our careers to helping save species from extinction (SAFE), we are also acutely aware it is not a challenge we can solve on our own – as individuals or as an organization. Luckily, our recent study shows that people throughout the U.S. want to be allies in this conservation work.
The findings of this study provide key insights into current attitudes and general knowledge among the public. Here are the top three takeaways:
• There is a general lack of knowledge among people in the U.S. when it comes to endangered species. An overwhelming majority (87 percent) of people in the U.S. say they are willing to help save animals from extinction, yet not one respondent could name the exact number of species protected under the Endangered Species Act. There are currently 1,459 species protected by the Endangered Species Act, but respondents had a median guess that only 100 species are currently in need of protection. Furthermore, many of the species people think are endangered, like the bald eagle and humpback whale, have been removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list, and people were most surprised to learn hummingbirds, salmon and cheetahs are endangered.
• Not all people in the U.S. are aware of government rollbacks, but the majority believes the government should be doing more to promote wildlife conservation. Protections for endangered species and wildlife conservation programs are under attack due to significant rollbacks, but only two of every five people in the U.S. recognize this is happening. That said, of those who are aware, more than 80 percent are unhappy about these rollbacks, and, according to a survey by our colleagues at the Indianapolis Prize, almost all (90 percent) believe the government (federal and state) should do more to promote policies that protect endangered animals.
• When it comes to trying to help, people in the U.S. say they are willing to donate time and money, but many are unsure where to start. People willing to help save endangered species (87%) say they would be willing to donate $15, volunteer 8 hours and travel 300 miles each month. Younger people (18-34) are willing to do even more through donations and volunteer hours. However, many don’t know how to get started.
Overall, the survey results point to one key theme: People in the U.S. care about endangered species. Yet, it’s also clear that more needs to be done when it comes to providing the public with the tools and knowledge necessary to become true advocates for wildlife conservation.
Fortunately, at AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos, our dedicated members help to educate 196 million guests per year about endangered species and conservation before it’s too late. Of the 6,000 species in human care at AZA-accredited facilities, 1,000 are endangered. These animals serve as ambassadors for their species, forming a real-life emotional bond with the people who want to protect them.
We’re doing even more out in the wild to save endangered species. In 2016 alone, AZA-accredited and certified facilities reported contributing $216 million to field conservation benefitting over 800 species and subspecies, more than 200 of which are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Through efforts like these AZA is working towards saving species under the ESA.
And through comprehensive breeding and conservation programs, AZA-accredited facilities have successfully reintroduced numerous species back into the wild, such as the black footed ferret, hellbender, scimitar-horned oryx, sea otter, California condor, and golden lion tamarin. Yet there are species that face extinction every day, but remain unknown to the public. Will people first learn about the saola or vaquita from news reports when the last remaining individual dies?
May 18 marked the 13th Endangered Species Day, a single day in the year that recognizes the conservation efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats. The protection of endangered species is at the core of the AZA’s mission – the AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction® program was established to utilize the collective expertise, resources and reach of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to save species and promote wildlife protection. At the AZA and AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, every day is endangered species day!
As an organization dedicated to wildlife conservation, the AZA is proud to serve as a resource for those who want to do and know more, whether it’s tips to help save animals from extinction starting with your own back yard and daily routines, updates on the species that are part of the SAFE program, or the latest news on government policies.
Knowing what you’re supporting and how you can lend a hand is the first step. Start today at www.aza.org/joinus.