Saint Louis Zoo’s International Conservation Program Recognized by Association of Zoos and Aquariums with National Award

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Saint Louis Zoo’s International Conservation Program Recognized by Association of Zoos and Aquariums with National Award


Silver Spring, Maryland (September 23, 2015) – The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced that the Saint Louis Zoo’s submission on behalf of 52 AZA accredited institutions received Top Honors in its 2015 International Conservation Award for AZA Zoos Giving Voice to the Sahara: Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) as a model for a zoo-driven conservation movement. This annual award recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild.


“Conservation is a high priority for all AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos,” said President and CEO Jim Maddy. “SCF serves as a model for how AZA institutions working together can launch a conservation movement, and it is receiving this award for the direct, positive impact it is making on the future of the world’s wildlife.”


“SCF today is recognized as the authority on conservation in the Sahara. It works in some of the poorest nations on the planet, under harsh environmental conditions, in a region of the world that is no stranger to political instability and social unrest. Yet it has been able to thrive and engender the first real hope for a future for the Sahara’s wildlife because of 52 AZA-accredited zoos and other partners rising to the challenge to speak for the Sahara’s critically endangered wildlife,” said Jeffrey Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown President & CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo. “SCF is our collective answer to that challenge. Through their commitment to make a difference, AZA zoos have played a leadership role in creating SCF and driving its mission. SCF is emblematic of what AZA zoos can do to become a conservation force on the planet.”


The extinction of the scimitar-horned oryx in the wild some 25-30 years ago is emblematic of the silent crisis of extinction underway in the Sahara. An entire suite of Sahelo-Saharan species are following in the fading footprints of the oryx and will, without immediate and concerted intervention, vanish from the wild like the oryx: addax and dama gazelles have been reduced to less than 300 animals in the wild; the Saharan race of the cheetah, never numerous, now only exists as a handful of animals scattered in isolated sub-populations; the biggest bird on the planet, the Saharan red-necked ostrich, has been extirpated across 95% of its range. Barbary sheep, dorcas gazelles, Nubian and Sudan bustards, multiple vulture species: all are undergoing contractions of range and population size. Sahara Conservation Fund was launched by the international Zoo Community and other partners to fill a niche no other organization was addressing. AZA zoos already had a huge commitment to Saharan wildlife through AZA’s many conservation breeding programs. Many species now so rare in the wild (or even extinct, as is the case of the scimitar-horned oryx) still exist in human care in zoos and private collections around the world. Those caring for these animals recognized the immense responsibility they bore as stewards of some of the most endangered species on the planet. Interest was high in connecting AZA’s ex situ breeding efforts to the field.


In just a few short years of collaboration, there is now a reserve, the largest in Africa, where the last significant population of addax, one of the most critically endangered antelope, has a better chance for survival. The biggest bird on the planet, the Saharan race of the red-necked ostrich, extirpated across 95% of its range, is now breeding in captivity in a breeding compound in Niger, with real hope for reintroduction into the wild in the coming years. Plans are underway to restore the scimitar-horned oryx, extinct in the wild for several decades now,back to the wild in Chad. The challenges remain large, but so are the opportunities for zoos to collaborate through SCF for a brighter future for the Sahara’s wildlife.


Additional collaborative partners on the project include: Sahara Conservation Fund, Abilene Zoo, Audubon Nature Institute, Blank Park Zoo, Brevard Zoo, Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, Buffalo Zoo, Busch Gardens Tampa, Calgary Zoo, Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Dickerson Park Zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Erie Zoo, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Fresno Chaffee Zoo, John Ball Zoo, Houston Zoo, Kansas City Zoo, Lee Richardson Zoo, Lehigh Valley Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, Minnesota Zoo, Nashville Zoo, North Carolina Zoological Park, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Potawatomi Zoo, Rolling Hills Zoo, Sacramento Zoo, Safari West, San Antonio Zoo, San Diego Zoo Global, San Francisco Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo, Smithsonian National Zoological Park & Conservation Biology Institute, The Living Desert, The Wilds, Toledo Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, White Oak Conservation Center, Woodland Park Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, Zoo Boise, Zoo Miami, and Zoo New England.


“The Sahelo-Saharan wildlife conservation movement underway today is a direct result of AZA zoos and their partners facing the silent tide of extinction that has been rolling across the Sahara and bordering Sahel, and stepping into an unfilled conservation niche to do something about it. Zoos are uniquely positioned to lead this movement because of their expertise and long history with many of the key species: addax, scimitar-horned oryx, cheetah, ostrich, dama gazelle, Cuvier’s gazelle, Barbary sheep, fennec and sand cat, to name a few. They have the animals and the captive management expertise to support reintroduction and restoration where it makes sense to do so,” said. John Newby, CEO of Sahara Conservation Fund. “Zoo collections provide the perfect platform to raise awareness about the plight of these species to millions of visitors. Zoos have access to a wealth of technical expertise and other resources to support the critical field work necessary to understand the challenges in the wild and develop solutions. Through the creation and support of SCF and its mission, zoos now have the vehicle through which our combined efforts can be channeled to safeguard a future for Sahelo-Saharan wildlife.


About the Saint Louis Zoo

Named America’s #1 Zoo by Zagat Survey and Parenting Magazine, the Saint Louis Zoo is widely recognized for its innovative approaches to animal management, wildlife conservation, research and education. One of the few free zoos in the nation, it attracts more than 3,000,000 visitors a year. To learn more, visit


About AZA

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 seven 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


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