December 15, 2021

Reframing Our View of Zoos & Aquariums

Last week, the Zoo Advisors team met face-to-face for the first time since the pandemic began, and – like many of you have been doing – we talked about our plans for the future. 

First, we reflected on the past two years. While acknowledging that it was a tough, crazy time, we also talked about the positives, which included spending considerable time with our AZA community on webinars, Zoom calls, and through our writings. 

Then we talked about what we see as the future of zoos and aquariums five to 10 years out. These are our initial musings, and likely will morph as we continue to ponder them. We’d love to know what you think. 

In summary, we believe we’ll see an overall reframing of our view of zoos and aquariums: 

  • We’ll become increasingly sophisticated in animal welfare, and we’ll continue to build this foundation – this is the price of entry for our community. 

  • Zoos and aquariums will become even more integrated into their local communities, and perhaps even hubs for their communities. Research has shown that compassion is built in places where people come together and share emotional events – like music, weddings, and even celebrations of life. We believe that this role of our organizations will grow. 

  • This of course will include a changing in demographics within our guests – our volunteers, our governing authorities, and our staff – both virtual and in person. We’ll work with our communities – all of them. When designing new experiences, we’ll talk to local communities in the range countries of the species and ask them to help drive the design process. We‘ll be a place of belonging for all peoples – including indigenous voices.

  • We’ll see a new generation of conservation, where conservation will be fully integrated into the cultures and operations of all AZA organizations. This new generation will include an association-wide strategic focus on field conservation, and that field conservation will be almost universally community-driven. Our accredited zoos and aquariums will recognize all aspects of conservation that they do – including environmental sustainability, conservation-related breeding, and engaging our communities in conservation action. While we’ll all still push for more funding for field conservation, we’ll have a new way of describing the percentage of our budgets that goes to all these aspects of the “Big C”: conservation.   

    • This will include a more sophisticated guest experience, where the principles of conservation psychology are integrated into our guest engagement and education. Increased comfort with technology, including strong partnerships with technology leaders, will help us achieve “mass customization.” We’ll see our understanding of the guest experience grow – encompassing what happens before their visit, to the building of life-time relationships with our guests. Experiences will be more immersive and personal. They’ll focus on hope, not doom and gloom, and will move the conversation toward one of coexisting, even thriving, with wildlife and nature.

    • These long-term relationships will then enable us – with our partners – to begin to realize the potential of leveraging our hundreds of millions of guests to act on behalf of wildlife – both locally and globally.

  • We’ll become more comfortable with technology in general, and it’ll be woven into all aspects of our profession – from how animal keepers and aquarists take care of their animals to creating seamless transactions for our guests. 

  • We’ll be a strong, bold voice for DEIAJ – including the aspects related to environmental and social justice such as driving for the education of women around the world. We’ll leverage the fact that we’re viewed as largely non-partisan to push for action related to climate change and reduction in fossil fuel use.

  • We’ll see a continued evolution of leadership. Where empathy and caring continue to be recognized as core to leadership, rather than as “soft skills.” Leaders will build their understanding of how to create caring, high-performing organizational cultures, and develop cultures where their teams are working together to save wildlife and build communities. Our business skills will grow commensurately, and new business models will help ensure that all people in our organizations receive a living wage.   

  • We’ll also become more sophisticated in how we “manage” our governing authorities. Capacity building within our governing authorities – from boards to corporations, to county government – will become the norm, and will be supported by resources. 

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below, as it will take our collective community working together to shape and effect the future of our industry.

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