November 5, 2019

At What Level Do We Fund Conservation?

The AZA has designated that 3% of an institution’s budget should be spent on field conservation, yet the question arises, “Is that enough?” For example, technology companies routinely spend over 10% of their budgets on research and development knowing the risk of losing market share. Should we do the same?

Dr. Richard Bergl, North Carolina Zoo’s Director of Conservation, and ZA’s Dr. Eric Miller explored funding conservation during the October ECHO Digital Call. ECHO Digital is a monthly open conversation where passionate zoo professions can connect with innovative ideas from outside the zoo field as well as other zoo colleagues around the country.

Participants included Jared Bixby, Jade Salamone, James F. Gesualdi, Jake Owens, Lochlan Wooten, Scott Shoemaker, Sheri Horiszny, Rebecca Snyder, Leeann Rottman, Milo Anderson, and Alison Edwards.

The extinction crisis continues to grow, with the United Nations recently estimating over 1,000,000 species are at risk. Zoos and aquariums have done great work “within our fences.” Examples include California condors, black-footed ferrets, Ozark hellbenders, and North African antelope, to name a few that have been successfully bred in zoos and reintroduced to the wild. For those species, zoos and aquariums have been “lifeboats” for survival. However, given the scope of the current extinction crisis, for our institutions to be “Arks” we must participate in field conservation that protects ecosystems.  

To date, over 50 AZA members have achieved the goal of spending at least 3% of their budget on field conservation. At the same time, zoos and aquariums are including conservation in their mission, and sometimes even in their name. Guests who visit these institutions now expect to learn about conservation efforts. In fact, conservation is one of the top two initiatives zoos can implement to increase public favorability. But what does that mean? Is 3% enough to call ourselves conservation organizations when technology companies (e.g., IBM, AT&T, Apple) often spend 10% on R&D to remain viable?

We need to increase support for field conservation in ways that are truly aspirational, yet achievable. This will require new funding sources (add ups at concession stands, conservation carousels, developing a conservation donor base, etc.).  As importantly, we must regularly evaluate our conservation programs to ensure they achieve our goals and develop true partnerships with other conservationists that reach beyond simply mailing a check. Rich Bergl emphasized the importance of internal staff doing and managing research and conservation. AZA SAFE, and a variety of partnerships with other zoos, field conservationists, and universities are vital to getting the most out of our efforts.

The discussion also included noting that for many public zoos, by law the funds must not originate from tax funds. We discussed carousels, etc., and Eric noted that the Saint Louis Zoo asks for a “dollar add up.”  When simply adding up to the next dollar was tested, there was higher market penetration, but less funding was collected.

The extinction crisis can often be overwhelming in its scale, but it is also important to celebrate our successes. Several are listed above, and here is one final example: giant pandas in human care in China are now a stable, growing population, thanks in large part to the work of the Atlanta, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. zoos. By being involved with conservation on the ground and linking this work to our guests and their visits, we empower the general public to be a part of saving species in ways that they otherwise may not be able to. Together we can make a difference in saving species, but it comes with a cost in both dollars and human capital. It is up to each institution to determine “Is that enough?”

Zoo Advisors provides conservation planning services to assist with answering this question—resulting in a comprehensive long-range plan, fully integrated throughout the organization and embraced by the board and staff, that identifies ways to grow your revenue so that you can grow your mission impact for the protection of the animals in our care.

Recent Insights

+49 856 9568 95

39 Lion Street

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Send Us a Message

Dr. Frederick Lahodny

Even though using “lorem ipsum” often arouses curiosity due to its resemblance to classical Latin, it is not intended to have meaning. Where text is visible in a document, people tend to focus on the textual content rather than upon overall presentation.