From the Desk of Dan Ashe

"THE ZOO" May Have Aired its Season Finale, but AZA Members Continue to Share Our Stories

This weekend, Animal Planet aired the Season Two finale of its highly successful series THE ZOO, which highlights one of the top zoos - the AZA-accredited Bronx Zoo - its staff, and its animals. THE ZOO is one example of the steps our members take to tell our stories and give people an intimate look at the important work taking place at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums.

Zoos and aquariums have been hesitant to bring the public behind-the-scenes. Whether out of apprehension, modesty, or the sheer complexity of the work we do, zoo and aquarium professionals have kept relatively silent regarding animal care practices. Perhaps we thought it best to focus on the animals in our care, with minimal outside interference.  But it is becoming increasingly important to be transparent, to educate the public about our expertise and rigorous animal welfare standards, and to demonstrate our dedication to conservation and saving species.

Left to Right: Lisa Lucas (Animal Planet), Jim Breheny (Bronx Zoo/WCS), Erin Wanner (Animal Planet), and Dan Ashe (AZA) attend "The ZOO" Season 2 Premiere
Left to Right: Lisa Lucas (Animal Planet), Jim Breheny (Bronx Zoo/WCS), Erin Wanner (Animal Planet), and Dan Ashe (AZA) attend "The ZOO" Season 2 Premiere

THE ZOO Season 1, which debuted in Feb 2017, was a tremendous success – the highest rated new series on Animal Planet since 2015. Over one million weekly viewers watched as the Bronx Zoo shared an unscripted look at the knowledge and diverse skills needed to operate a zoo, generating awareness about the quality care the animals receive from dedicated staff, and educating about the importance of conservation.

The second season featured an all-new line-up of stories that included Dave, a red kangaroo who bounces back from arthritic symptoms after undergoing chryotherapy; breeding komodo dragons; keepers training bats, a golden eagle and Indian gharials; the head-starting of Eastern hellbenders; and how a keeper deals with retiring after 31 years of caring for Happy, Patty and Maxine, the Bronx Zoo’s three female Asian elephants. 

Some of these stories were challenging, controversial, and emotional to tell. Throughout the season, viewers witnessed conservation in action as zoo staff successfully bred pink pigeons and gave hellbenders a “headstart.” They formed emotional bonds with the animal ambassadors, watching as they ate, played, and parented.  They watched our highly trained animal care professionals provide compassionate veterinary care to a snow leopard cub born with developmental issues affecting its mobility and an elephant diagnosed with tuberculosis. They learned about Species Survival Plans (SSPs), animal rescue, and the true dedication required to operate a zoo or aquarium. Each episode of THE ZOO demonstrates some of the remarkable successes our members have had in advancing animal welfare and conservation, and continues to provide insight and inspiration. 

From THE ZOO at the Bronx, to Columbus Zoo’s upcoming television show set to premiere on National Geographic Wild this summer, our members are finding innovative ways to share our stories widely through all available media platforms. It is crucial to offer these perspectives to show why zoos matter, especially to audiences who might have never visited a zoo or aquarium and may be misinformed about our facilities and their relevance in today’s world. 

I am proud to see the work AZA members do every day be put into the limelight.

You can catch up on the latest episodes of “THE ZOO” here. 

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