April 22, 2020

“Conservation Isn’t Closed” Conversation Takeaways

“For zoos and aquariums to lose their conservation programs in this time of crisis would be like discontinuing the position of the National Security Council’s Pandemic Response Team when facing looming infectious challenges.”

—Jake Owens, PhD, Los Angeles Zoo Director of Conservation

As a result of the pandemic, we’re in a time of unprecedented crisis—for the world, our country, and our institutions. Without a doubt, dramatic financial decisions will have to be made not only now, but also during the recovery period. We believe that while we evaluate those difficult decisions, it’s critical that we not lose sight of our institutions’ core mission—values of animal care, education, public engagement, and conservation.

How do we maintain one of our core missions of conservation during this time of crisis? On April 16th, Dr. Eric Miller, Zoo Advisors; Dr. Jake Owens, Director of Conservation at the Los Angeles Zoo; and 61 audience members from the U.S. and internationally discussed conservation challenges during our third Community Conversation. A full recording of the discussion is accessible by clicking here and entering the password y9=Y47*1. On April 22nd, WAZA hosted another webinar attended by 110 participants and facilitated by Dr. Martin Zordan, WAZA Executive Director, with three panelists: Mike Barclay from Wildlife Reserves Singapore, and David Walsh and Dr. Eric Miller from Zoo Advisors. A full recording of the WAZA discussion is accessible by clicking here and entering the password 0v#A$=M3.

Both webinars allowed for the sharing of conservation threats and frustrations around the current crisis, however, in the spirit of “no good crisis should go to waste,” they also identified opportunities.

Conservation needs will vastly increase in nearly all the areas our institutions have supported.

  • For example, in Kenya a quarantine against international travelers from countries with COVID-19 cases poses a potential catastrophe for wildlife tourism—their first or second largest source of foreign earned revenue. An early wildlife tourism study estimated that every lion in Kenya is worth $10,000 in tourist revenue. Without that income, will wildlife continue to have the same value? Beyond that loss of tourism revenue, conservation challenges in Kenya and elsewhere also include:

    • Loss of tourism lessens “eyes on the ground.’ We’ve already seen an increase in rhinoceros poaching due to lack of tourists and tour guides on preserves.

    • Collapse of communities around conservation areas that our zoos and aquariums have supported. Economic desperation is likely to lead to increased environmental degradation.

    • Increased migration from cities as populations flee the pandemic to villages whose food supplies cannot support additional people, creating need for increased use of bushmeat.

It’s vital that our institutions fill this increased need for conservation action NOW—wildlife can’t wait.

  • We can help the public to better understand how humans are part of the picture, that wildlife is not the heart of the problem, and how our zoos can help. Click here to read this insightful article explaining the “zoonotic spillover” relationship of human actions, wildlife, and the coronavirus.

  • A conservation benefit that may come from this current pandemic is the restriction of trade in Asian wildlife markets that has already led to SARS and now COVID-19. Click here to read “Is Coronavirus the Death Blow That Wildlife Trafficking Needed?”  It was noted that for a ban to be effective, it needs to be tied to social change and alternative incomes.

  • Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, CEO and President of the Saint Louis Zoo, sent a letter to AZA Directors that expresses a “two-for-one” benefit of protecting both wildlife and human health sentiments:

    • “We need to work with our various audiences to reach out to our elected officials to demand action to tackle this scourge.”

    • Our government can step up interdiction efforts. We can increase aid to range countries and reward real efforts to combat the problem. We can, and I promise you this will be popular, place sanctions on countries that allow the illegal trade to cross their borders. It can be done legislatively and it can be done right now.”

    • “I’m hopeful that if we find the right legislative vehicle, our members and supporters will back our efforts to halt wildlife trafficking.”

Despite immense challenges, this is an extraordinary opportunity for our institutions to take many additional positive steps, including:

  • Addressing our impact on conservation and the long-term sustainability of our actions.

  • Increasing capacity building for “in country” conservationists, so in a crisis like this, conservation efforts are not wholly dependent on outside support.

  • Increasing support for communities. In the experience of the participants, education and basic healthcare are the most frequently requested activities, ones that can often be supported with relatively low levels of funding.

  • Considering new and increased partnerships, e.g., IUCN, AZA’s collaboration with IUCN’s Wildlife Trafficking network, USFWS, UNEP and other groups who are working to put an end to this major threat to wildlife.  

    • One example is ensuring that zoos and aquariums are active participants in WAZA’s program with IUCN in the “Reverse the Red” campaign—working to get endangered species off of the IUCN Red List.

    • Another is increased international cooperation for wildlife trade laws, efforts that can be coordinated by regional zoo associations, then WAZA.

  • Recognizing an immediate need for funding. Reach out to current donors, seek small grant support that would keep some projects intact until the future becomes clearer, and perhaps, as a group, address new funding sources for the zoo and aquarium community, e.g., UNEP (the United National Environmental Program).

  • Increasing our social media presence. Witness what has happened when our institutions’ education programs needed to focus exclusively on remote learning. There will be a new paradigm in communication and this is an opportunity to reach out to new audiences.

  • Increasing collaboration and cooperation among our institutions. Many institutions are doing the same work in the same region and coordination could save funds and be more effective.

  • Increasing communication. As everyone has become more familiar with Zoom and other platforms, there’s an opportunity for zoos and aquariums to increase collaboration outside of formal meetings.

  • A need to be flexible. The future for our institutions and conservation isn’t clear right now and we need to be prepared for a period of “chaos.”

These COVID-19-induced challenges are a unique opportunity for zoos and aquariums to increase our impact on conservation, opportunities that not only support our institutional missions, but also increase our roles as vital participants, locally and internationally, for the very survival of wildlife.

As all of our institutions evaluate dramatic budget adjustments, conservation budgets will need to take their share of the “pain.” However, these funds shouldn’t be drastically reduced nor eliminated in this time of conservation need. COVID-19 makes our mandate to stay “on mission,” including our conservation efforts and collaborations, more important than ever before. We’re offering these suggestions to make your conservation dollars go farther now and in the future. What will you do to help?

  1. Keep your mission front and center. Remember, entities that highlight their missions outperform those marketing themselves primarily as attractions. (IMPACTS Research).

  2. Hone your message. Draft a compelling “elevator speech” telling succinctly how and why your conservation work is critical to your organization’s survival. Consider your audience, tell a great story, and demonstrate your impact. Let your leaders know that conservation is an essential investment with a demonstrable ROI.

  3. Leverage your volunteers. How can they help? Are there projects they can work on from home, do research, write letters to elected officials, etc.?

  4. Don’t forget your current commitments. If you can’t meet your full contribution to a project, let your partners know and send something. A little goes a long way for some field projects.

  5. Get creative. There’s a saying: ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ Use this time to push the boundaries and figure out what new models may exist. How can we better utilize technology to accomplish our goals? Reach out to funders and discuss how you’re going to approach problems in a new way, perhaps even partnering with others (see below.)  

  6. Look for partners. It’s now more important not to go it alone. Others may be more open now to collaborate for greater impact, share expenses, and maximize resources. Look at where those overlaps in programs exist and how partnering can serve everyone better.

  7. Have a plan. Having a great elevator speech is just the beginning. This may be an opportunity to more clearly define your focus and vision for conservation at your institution. Develop criteria, create a long-range budget, research and identify projects, and determine evaluation metrics. Where do you want to have impact? What do you want to be known for in carrying out your own conservation actions? Let us know if you need some guidance or support—we’d be happy to assist.

  8. In this time of crisis and serious budget cuts, stay the course to save wildlife by continuing to support conservation at your institutions and in the field.

And remember,

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. Seuss, 
The Lorax

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.