Jun 29

Making the World SAFE for Endangered Animals

This year, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium will have the opportunity to spread the word about conservation to more than two million zoo visitors.

But what if that number was multiplied exponentially? What if every single one of the 230-plus worldwide member-institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) committed to an organized, collective effort to educate and act on behalf of the world’s endangered animals?

That is exactly what SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) is doing.

Safe was established in 2015, when AZA institutions came together to identify 10 endangered species, the Safe Signature Species, on which to focus their planning and action. The original cast includes African penguins, Asian elephants, black rhinoceroses, cheetahs, gorillas, sea turtles, sharks and rays, vaquita porpoises, Western pond turtles, and whooping cranes. Each one gets a three-year Conservation Action Plan (CAP) with specific projects, goals, and actions to address their needs.

SAFE also has a program devoted to species sponsored by members, which now includes giraffe. The Member-Sponsored Species require an established conservation plan and two or more AZA-accredited institutions that have an established commitment for conducting/supporting active conservation work on the species for a minimum of two years.

Our zoo is proud to be a founding member organization of SAFE, with two members of our staff, Dr. Cheryl Morris, our chief conservation officer, and Dr. Elizabeth Mulkerrin, our director of education, in leadership roles. Both are project coordinators with Morris serving on the cheetah CAP and Mulkerrin on the African penguin CAP. Our director and CEO, Dennis Pate, was on the AZA board when SAFE was being developed, and we have already contributed generously to SAFE initiatives, including an ongoing, urgent campaign to save the vaquita porpoise from imminent extinction.

“We've seen some real, positive effects by all of us coming together and working on behalf of these species,” says Mulkerrin. For example, to address the problem of African penguins not having chicks because of depletion of the materials they need to build their nests, her group recently raised money on Kickstarter to build artificial nests. “We exceeded our initial goal of raising $150,000, and our stretch goal of an additional $25,000. This means, we will be able to build more than two thousand nests.”

Both Mulkerrin and Morris say that the public is a huge factor in the success of SAFE programs. “We’re really pushing conservation messages, both globally and locally,” says Mulkerrin. “We want people to know that they can have a big impact by recycling, turning off lights and conserving water, but we’re also rolling out content on social media and producing pieces for zoos, like the pledge cards that go along with this summer’s National Geographic exhibit, for people who want to get involved on a deeper level.”

“We want to get people excited about what zoos are doing to save species around the world,” says Morris. “SAFE was established because we are in such a bad global extinction crisis, that we realized we needed to think collectively and collaboratively in order to save the biodiversity of species on this planet.”

She adds that the more people understand that they play a significant role in wildlife conservation, the better our chances. “It really is going to take everyone. One person can't save an entire species, but one person can help save one animal. One person can do a lot.”

For more information about the AZA SAFE program, please visit their website. To learn how you can support the zoo’s global conservation efforts, please call 402-738-2073 or visit OmahaZooFoundation.com.