We need animal conservation heroes more than ever as the world is losing wildlife thousands of times faster than the natural extinction rate. A new public service announcement unveiled today by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) features four professionals who embody what it means to be a champion for wildlife and wild places. The winners of the AZA Find Our Wildlife Heroes contest, who star in the ad, share the unique paths they’ve pursued to help save endangered species. The full PSA and vignettes featuring each of the heroes may be viewed on AZA’s YouTube channel.
“The professional staff at AZA-accredited facilities are doing incredible work each day to educate and inspire the next generation of conservationists, provide exceptional care possible to the animals at their facilities, and working tirelessly in the field to save animals in nature,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “Amanda, Donnie, Josh, and Rachael are representative of those thousands of professionals, and I believe America will enjoy getting to know them.”
Last fall, AZA invited members of its 233-accredited facilities to submit personal stories of their passion for animal care and conservation. Over 100 entries were received, highlighting the diverse work of professionals at AZA-accredited facilities and the love they have for their jobs.
After deliberation from a panel of judges, as well as a public voting period, four members from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums were chosen as Our Wildlife Heroes. These four heroes represent professionals at AZA facilities who play a hands-on role in the care and conservation of animals:
- 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 thousands of students per year, engaging them in citizen science and inspiring conservation in the classroom.
More than 800,000 animals receive quality care at AZA-accredited organizations, which includes ensuring a diverse wildlife population for generations to come. Because of exceptional staff members like these heroes, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are uniquely suited to fight extinction through:
Resources – They contributed $220 million in 2017 to field conservation, benefitting over 800 species worldwide.
Research – They conducted over 1,000 animal care, health, and welfare projects in 2017.
Recovery – They reintroduce extinct species such as the scimitar-horned oryx and the black-footed ferret and rehabilitate animals who cannot survive on their own.
Education – They inspire nearly 200 million annual guests, in addition to the countless education and volunteer programs in their community.
The PSA encourages viewers also to be a hero for wildlife through five simple steps: Advocate, Volunteer, Donate, Share and Visit. Animal lovers can deepen their commitment to wildlife conservation by going to www.aza.org/joinus.
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.