From the Desk of Dan Ashe

Reflections on “Invest In The Nest”

As Global Tiger Day approaches on July 29th and AZA members prepare to showcase the magnificent animals through a special series of Facebook Lives with Animal Planet, I can’t help but reflect on our association’s extraordinary teamwork. It was just a few weeks ago that we surpassed our “Invest In The Nest” campaign goal on Kickstarter afterall.

We know African penguins are a species in peril in large part because of loss of habitat. “Invest In The Nest” brought together scientists and engineers to find a solution to help the birds and address the threat. At the same time, AZA members and partners engaged the public through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to help fund the solution. This was the first time the Kickstarter platform was used to directly help an endangered species.

By the 30-day deadline, over 2,200 supporters from around the world had contributed to the campaign and helped us to meet – and exceed – our $150,000 goal. National and local news stories about the campaign were secured, along with millions of social media impressions, taking our story of species conservation even further.

None of the success would have been possible without the AZA community coming together to help. We were truly humbled by the generous support of our partners and members:

  • Kevin Graham, our Artificial Nest Development project coordinator from Dallas Zoo, tirelessly answered questions about the project and recorded several fantastic videos;

  • Stonyfield Organic “kicked off” our campaign with a $30,000 contribution;

  • Oregon Zoo hosted a penguin painting party on Facebook LIVE;

  • Mystic Aquarium provided expert video editing guidance and rewards of behind the scene experiences;

  • Jack Hanna recorded some promotional videos and a celebrity voicemail;

  • El Paso Zoo, Georgia Aquarium, and Naples Zoo all backed the campaign financially;

  • Alex and Ani provided penguin charm bangles as a reward;

  • Timothy Davison painted, framed and donated a beautiful portrait of an African penguin.

And the list goes on!

This combined global action was what the developers of SAFE had hoped would happen when creating the program, and now, the proof is in the artificial nest, so to speak.

AZA will now use the Kickstarter funds to help create and install over 2,000 artificial nests for African penguins in South Africa and Namibia. Working together, we will help save African penguins from extinction. Our work with African penguins will also continue at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, where AZA members will place their own “test nests” and research how African penguins use their new homes. Visitors can see this work in action at our “nest-tester” facilities, including:

• Adventure Aquarium

• California Academy of Sciences – Steinhart Aquarium

• Children's Zoo at Celebration Square

• Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

• Dallas Zoo 

• Denver Zoo

• Jacksonville Zoo

• Lincoln Park Zoo

• Maryland Zoo

• Memphis Zoo

• Mystic Aquarium

• National Aviary

• Newport Aquarium 

• Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo

I would also like to extend my sincerest gratitude to the AZA staff for their hard work on this project, especially Executive Vice President Jill Nicoll for “hatching” this idea and bringing it to life.

I am proud of the AZA community stepping up earlier this year to help with vaquita and now supporting African penguins. I look forward to what challenge the AZA community tackles next!

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