The Association of Zoos and Aquariums managed over 450 animal programs, including Species Survival Plan programs, Population Management plans and Reintroduction to the Wild initiatives. This nonprofit organization began in 1924 as an instrument of zoo conservation, animal research and a way of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. AZA-accredited zoos care for over 900,000 animals and generate more than $8.4 billion each year, which is no small feat! The prestige that this organization brings to a zoo is unquestionable, but more important is the amount of clamor they bring to the public sphere.
The AZA has many zoo conservation programs underway. In 2007, they announced some of their greatest success stories. For instance, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle nests are being protected along the Mexican Gulf Coast, with hundreds being added each year. Grevy’s zebras are being conserved in Kenya, thanks to the work of a Saint Louis Zoo. The Great White Shark is being preserved at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the animal exhibit hopes to change the public’s perception of these infamous trophy creatures. Butterfly monitoring in Florida, marmots at the Toronto Zoo and bald eagles in San Francisco are all successful programs underway.
Zoo conservation breeding programs are just part of the puzzle, of course. There needs to be government protection of wildlife habitats and careful regulation of development and boating pursuits that threaten endangered species around the world. Far too often human exploits go too far and we destroy the animal kingdom’s environment, without ever really realizing it — until we see a dead whale washed up on the beach with rotor slashes on its back, or a mountain lion dead along a California highway. Zoos around the world are calling attention to these issues, imparting the lessons of conservation upon future generations while they are young and impressionable in hopes of avoiding a dire fate.