From the Desk of Dan Ashe

AZA-Accredited Facilities Celebrate Earth Week with Parties for the Planet

On April 22, Earth Day, we come together to celebrate the beauty of our natural world and engage in efforts to preserve it for the future. The themes around Earth Day directly align to AZA’s mission of protecting wildlife and wild places, and our accredited facilities spent this last week hosting educational events, spring cleanings, and more in honor of Earth Day.

Here in DC, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo welcomed a record 15,000 to 20,000 guests on Monday for an Earth Optimism Day/Easter Monday celebration. Earth Optimism Day encourages us to think positively about the environment and ourselves, showing us that we can in fact make a positive impact on the planet. Throughout the day, visitors of all ages engaged in hands-on learning activities, viewed special animal demonstrations and keeper talks, and learned about conservation initiatives while enjoying egg hunts, live music, and food.

AZA’s accredited facilities across the country celebrated Earth Day in their own fun and creative ways.

• Newport Aquarium teamed up with FC Cincinnati to collect and recycle plastic bags in an effort to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean. The 6,000 bags that were collected will be repurposed into tote bags, backpacks for children in foster care, and dog beds for animal shelters.
• Loveland Living Planet Aquarium encouraged guests to help create a pixel wall of pledges for the planet, such as using reusable bags and bottles. Aquarium staff also educated guests about their endangered and threatened animals during extended hours on Earth Day.
• Maryland Zoo in Baltimore led a free Citizen Science Program on Earth Day, giving children the chance to search for animals in their natural environment and use the iNaturalist tool to document their findings.

We also had some special announcements! Other highlights included:

• The Museum of Life and Science in North Carolina shared the birth of a litter of endangered red wolf pups on Earth Day morning. With less than 300 red wolves in the world and only 30 in the wild, every additional birth is a milestone for the future of this species.
• John G. Shedd Aquarium, along with 19 other members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership, pledged to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic packaging in retail products, reduce single-use plastic in “back-of-house” operations, and eliminate single-use plastic in all dining tableware.  They are also encouraging guests to #SheddtheStraw.
•  Mystic Aquarium opened their “Plastic Free Seas” exhibit designed to bring awareness to the problems of plastic pollution and the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling. The Aquarium coupled their Earth Day message with a weekend beach cleanup for volunteers.

And the celebrations will continue. Earth Day marked the kickoff of AZA’ s Party For The Planet®, a 48-day observance in which our members will “Spring into Action” by leading conservation-themed volunteer events throughout the country. Exciting upcoming events include

• Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton will visit Cincinnati Zoo on Thursday to sign copies of her new children’s book about endangered species, Don’t Let Them Disappear. Clinton will visit Little Rock Zoo this month as well, helping us to spread the word about the importance of saving species from extinction.
• GreenFest at Detroit Zoo will happen this Saturday. Visitors will not only learn about the zoo’s sustainability programs, but the first thousand visitors will also receive a seedling to plant in their own backyard. This small but important action shows visitors how they can take actionable steps to protect our environment.  
• Zoo Miami will host a Party For The Planet this weekend with family-friendly activities and entertainment, while the animals will enjoy enrichment items made from recycled materials. Guests can come free of charge when they turn in a cell phone for recycling. These donated cell phones will hopefully reduce need for coltan — a mineral extracted in the deep forests of Congo in Central Africa, home to the world’s endangered lowland gorillas.
• This Sunday, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk will work with volunteers to plant marsh grass, remove invasive species, and install deer fencing to help clean and restore shoreline environments.

Looking for a Party For The Planet event near you? Find your local zoo or aquarium here: It is important to spread awareness about these conservation efforts. It’s also easy to celebrate with us using the hashtags #SpringIntoAction and #PartyForThePlanet.

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