From the Desk of Dan Ashe

Our Wildlife Heroes

Last week, AZA premiered a first-of-its-kind PSA recognizing the dedicated professionals at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums for their incredible work. Though they may not admit it, these individuals are, in fact, heroes.

We need animal heroes more than ever. The world is losing wildlife thousands of times faster than the natural extinction rate.  AZA and our 230+ accredited member facilities are trying to reverse these alarming numbers through conservation science, wildlife expertise, and the support of nearly 200 million annual visitors. And the professionals working at AZA-accredited facilities are essential to these efforts.

The professionals at AZA-accredited facilities play a hands-on role in the care and conservation of animal wildlife. AZA-accredited zoos and aquarium professionals provide the highest quality care for more than 800,000 animals, which includes assuring a diverse wildlife population for generations to come, making them leading experts in animal welfare and recovery. It’s because of these exceptional staff members, that AZA- accredited zoos and aquariums of the United States are uniquely suited to fight extinction and save species. However, although they show this tireless commitment to conservation, these professionals are not often recognized for the important work they do each day.

AZA decided to change that. Last fall, we invited our members to submit their personal stories as a part of the “Find Our AZA Heroes” campaign. Their testimonies highlight the incredible work being done by professionals at AZA-accredited facilities related to conservation, education, and providing the best possible animal care and welfare. With over 95 entries and after much deliberation, our panel of judges selected four inspiring individuals who embody AZA’s mission to protecting wildlife and wild places.  These four heroes are building a brighter future for endangered and threatened species through outreach to underserved communities, research in the wild, animal rescue efforts education of the next generation of animal heroes.

I’d like to introduce and congratulate our heroes and PSA stars.

  • Amanda Hodo from Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium – Amanda followed her dream to pursue aquatic biology and serves as a role model to the next generation of scientists through outreach to underserved communities.
  • Donnie Alverson from San Diego Zoo Global – Donnie, a conservation researcher, is studying, breeding and reintroducing Hawaiian honeycreepers to ensure sustainable populations in the wild.
  • Josh Lucas from Oklahoma City Zoo – Josh, a herpetologist, grew his childhood love of reptiles into a lifelong passion for caring for animals and traveled across the globe to help rescue endangered radiated tortoises from illegal wildlife trade.
  • Rachael Rost from Topeka Zoo – Rachael, an educator, directly connects with hundreds of students per year, engaging them in citizen science and inspiring conservation in the classroom.


These four individuals have incredible stories, individually and collectively. Amanda, Donnie, Josh, and Rachael represent thousands of other zoo and aquarium professionals in our community who are just as dedicated, as hard-working, and as heroic.  Staff at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums inspire the next generation of conservationists, conduct over 1,000 animal care, health, and welfare research projects, and contribute over $220 million to field conservation each year. They reintroduce extinct species such as the scimitar-horned oryx and the black-footed ferret and rehabilitate animals who cannot survive on their own. They are saving our natural world.

I have the pleasure of working with these heroes and never cease to be amazed by their stories.  I believe America will enjoy getting to know Amanda, Donnie, Josh, and Rachael as we invite the world to join us in our efforts to save animals from extinction.

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