February 7, 2019

The State of the Zoo & Aquarium Profession – Five Quotes From Those Who Know

We spent last week in Nashville sitting among over 200 international zoo and aquarium leaders. We talked opportunities, challenges, solutions and strategies. We discussed, debated and deliberated topics as varied as conservation, diversity, and advocacy. We celebrated successes, ignited passion, and became change agents. What were our takeaways from the Music City? We tried to capture the wisdom from over 25 sessions into five themes from our colleagues:


Meet the Cavalry
Defenders of Wildlife’s President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark

  • We’ve got quite a mess on our hands in terms of the future of wildlife; but there is hope. Hope that lies with us to do more and be more impactful.

  • AZA zoos and aquariums are the cavalry.

 Don’t be Dodos
Woodland Park Zoo’s President Alejandro Grajal

  • We risk extinction if we don’t diversify our ranks at all levels and retain relevance

  • We need to actively address diversity issues within our profession; a lack of diversity poses a threat to the population sustainability of AZA professionals

  • We’ve made some progress, but the demographic numbers – women and people of color in leadership positions – don’t look great; in some cases they’re going backwards

  • We need to move from talking to action

 Define the Change You Want to Have
Brevard Zoo’s Executive Director Keith Winsten

  • Rank your Initiatives on:

    • Aspirational scale: Hitting the sweet spot between not inspiring and impossible

    • Measurability: Can we track progress?

    • Connected: Can we document our role?

 If You’re Not There [at the Table], You’re Not Heard
South Carolina Aquarium’s President and CEO Kevin Mills

  • Advocacy vs. lobbying: we can all advocate, many of us can also lobby–but be aware of the rules

  • Move from not only caring for wildlife but to advocating for wildlife survival

 If You Don’t Like Change, You’ll Like Irrelevance Even Less
AZA’s President and CEO Dan Ashe, quoting General Eric Shinseki

  • Be ahead of the curve to not only address today’s needs but also think about what’s coming next

  • “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” Dan quoting Wayne Gretzsky

Overall, in 2019 there was an amplified sense of hopefulness and renewed energy, more positive than in past years. We left confident, knowing that AZA and its members are well positioned to address the conservation challenges at hand. We challenge you to identify with and embrace these themes, discuss them with your colleagues, and contact Zoo Advisors for support in engaging to effect change. We’re part of the cavalry too!

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