The First Strategic Plan for Conservation at the Los Angeles Zoo

Condor and zookeeper


Denise Verret hit the ground running. After her appointment as CEO and Director of the Los Angeles Zoo in July 2019, Ms. Verret demonstrated her commitment to wildlife conservation by quickly appointing the Zoo’s first Director of Conservation, Dr. Jake Owens. Ms. Verret and Dr. Owens sought to provide focus and rationale, demonstrate measurable impact, and position the Zoo as a conservation leader among zoos and in the field. To achieve this, only months later, in the Spring of 2020, Ms. Verret engaged Zoo Advisors to guide the development of the Zoo’s first Conservation Strategic Plan—at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic was rising in Los Angeles and nationwide.  


Kathy Wagner and Dr. Eric Miller of Zoo Advisors designed the strategic process and conducted the entire project virtually—a first for the firm, but at the time, the only way to ensure the safety of all involved in this co-design process.

Los Angeles local, regional, and state conservation and environmental communities came together in an online input session as part of the “engaging, listening and learning” process to gain insights and learn more about the Zoo’s plan, share their projects and knowledge, and identify common ground and focus for future collaboration. This input helped to further engage the Zoo even more deeply in this arena to shed light on local and regional conservation issues and gain greater awareness of their work. The online “room” was filled with community leaders, NGO organizations, and federal and state wildlife agency representatives, plus additional outreach that resulted in >70 contributors to the planning process.

An interdisciplinary Zoo team remained committed and dedicated during hours of Zoom screens, post-meeting assignments, and conference calls—all critical to the successful creation of a plan that would ultimately require the full engagement and support of the entire Zoo, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), and the City.


The five-year Conservation Strategic Plan includes guiding principles, goals and objectives, and evaluation strategies and resource requirements, along with a proposed conservation portfolio model and project selection criteria and process. Social and environmental justice, human-wildlife co-existence, California conservation, reduction of the illegal wildlife trade, conservation translocations, and evidence-based conservation are focal areas for the portfolio of initiatives.  

The Zoo team dedicated extensive resources and time to ensure widespread engagement and support for the Plan, with a live-streamed public celebration and rollout, and action steps introduced by Mayor Garcetti and led by Ms. Verret and Dr. Owens. 

This Plan is a critically important step as the Los Angeles Zoo strengthens their conservation impact in 1) one of the world’s most important metropolitan areas and 2) one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions. Click here to listen to LA Zoo leaders launch the plan to continue to save species in the Zoo’s backyard and around the globe.

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Dr. Frederick Lahodny

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