From the Desk of Dan Ashe

Looking Back: Best Conservation Stories of 2019

AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos are just as committed to protecting animals in the wild as they are to the animals in their care. Each year, AZA-accredited facilities contribute more than $200 million to conservation initiatives around the world. Several of these projects also take place within the local community. Let's take a look back on some of the greatest conservation stories of 2019, compiled by the AZA community and communications team.

- The Indianapolis Zoo and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission partnered to create the first Global Center for Species Survival to be located at the Indianapolis Zoo. A newly created staff will support more than 9,000 conservation experts worldwide working to formulate action plans to save species and their ecosystems.

- Endangered Puerto Rican crested toads were born for the first time via in vitro fertilization at the Fort Worth Zoo. Over 300 individuals were hatched in this endeavor to save the species from extinction. This is the first time in vitro fertilization has been used and will allow conservationists to grow the population while keeping toads in their habitat.

- Columbus Zoo and Aquarium partnered with the Ohio Wildlife Center to rescue, release, and track migratory birds. This project seeks to help researchers understand migratory patterns of birds that are rehabilitated after striking buildings. Columbus Zoo tracks the birds with its own radio towers and is now helping other zoos nationwide to install their own. 

- Woodland Park Zoo took the lead in combating wildlife trafficking by hosting a “Toss the Tusk” ivory surrender event. More than 300 items were dropped off — including a long pointy narwhal tooth, rugs made of cheetah and leopard, and dominoes made of walrus tusk.

Image of surrendered animal products 
Photo Courtesy of Woodland Park Zoo

- In response to red tide, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium teamed up with the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, to raise, and then release, five thousand juvenile snook into the wild.

- Audubon Zoo and the US Fish and Wildlife Service released three of the country’s rarest snake species – the Louisiana Pine Snake – into Kisatchie National Forest. The snakes, hatched at the Jacksonville Zoo, were transferred to Audubon for head-starting in 2018. Audubon is one of four main breeding facilities for the snake under the AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP)®  program.

- Toronto Zoo reintroduced 48 endangered baby Blanding's turtles to a wetland found in Rouge National Urban Park as part of their headstarting program, now in its sixth year. Thirty seven of the turtles were named after Toronto Raptors team members and super fans, and the news reached over 8 million people on social media. To date, the Zoo and its partners have reintroduced 213 juvenile Blanding’s turtles in an effort to save the species.

Image of Blanding's turtle release 
Photo Courtesy of Toronto Zoo

- Butterfly Pavilion created the world’s first “pollinator district” an 1,000 acre “neighborhood” that will support an estimated 900 types of bees and 230 types of butterflies. The neighborhood, named “Baseline,” will model best practices for developers seeking to turn urban areas into habitat.

- Zoo New England and the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Wildlife initiated a three year conservation project to monitor and protect wood turtles so rare, their location is kept secret. Zoo staff are tracking the tiny turtles using radio transmitters, and are working to identify possible sites for reintroduction. This fall also marked the first season of “head-starting” baby turtles, which took place in classrooms to give local students a chance to learn about the animals in their own neighborhood. 

- Utica Zoo announced a limited edition “Lion’s Roast” coffee developed in partnership with Utica Coffee Roasting. Sales of the single-source coffee from Tanzania will be used to support conservation efforts for African Lions in the wild. Read more here

- Los Angeles Zoo developed a new tactic to further grow the California Condor population by raising chicks as pairs rather than individuals. The California Condor was on the brink of extinction in the 1980’s but has since rebounded thanks to the innovative breeding programs at LA Zoo and other AZA-accredited facilities.

Image of condor egg at Los Angeles Zoo 
Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Zoo

Stay tuned for more memories from 2019!

Posted by Ashley Jones at 8:00 AM

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