Zoos and Aquariums Embrace Conservation Text by Amy Gotliffe, Conservation Director at the Oakland Zoo.
There are many admirable conservation organizations around the world, but zoos and aquariums have a unique advantage: they welcome 175 million people through their gates each year. On a nice, affordable day out, these zoo-goers can be exposed to conservation messages at a variety of levels. In fact, zoos were ranked among the top most trusted messengers of wildlife conservation.
Zoos and aquariums are now on the forefront of wildlife protection. They raise and donate funds, send medical, educational and operational supplies to projects, raise awareness through lectures, classes and publications, donate expertise by sending vets and other staff to project sites and sell indigenous wares in their gift shops. They band together with other zoos in their ecosystem to work on local conservation issues, breed and release species, and provide medical attention to local wildlife. They are full service.
This project protects endangered chimpanzees by providing a snare patrol and removal team, an educational outreach program and a means for getting protein for ex-poachers: goats!
The Oakland Zoo Conservation Fund has been the sole financial supporter of the project since 2001. The funding is raised through an evening event and silent auction, called For the Love of Primates, in February, giving us a chance to raise awareness about the project, as well as funds. Discovering Primates Day also happens in February, where guests participate in fun, hands-on stations and learn about all primates and what each of us can do to help them.
In 2011, the Oakland Zoo’s ZooCamp selected the Budongo Snare Removal Project as their beneficiary, thereby designating one dollar of every camper registration as a donation to the project.
During the week, 1000 plus children donned in yellow t-shirts with the Budongo logo, connected to chimps and the project in a variety of ways. They visited our dynamic group of chimpanzees, created enrichment for them and participated in a theatrical, live presentation called Budongo Hour. Their ZooCamp gift was a Kibale Bead bracelet made by an artisan group in Uganda.
Meanwhile, an intrepid group of adults and an enthusiastic group of teens collected cameras, laptops, books, school supplies, medical supplies and notes of appreciation from staff and ZooCampers, and set sail for Uganda to visit the project. After a very warm welcome, each group delivered their goods, walked the forest with the snare patrol team, attended ex-poacher meetings, got schooled in their outreach programs, and experienced first-hand the joys and challenges of maintaining a successful conservation program. I think the highlight for many of us was the day spent working to de-worm the many goats in the program.
Back at the zoo, a new concept launched: Quarters for Conservation. This program donates $.25 from each zoo admission to one of three featured conservation programs, and in our inaugural year, the Budongo Snare Removal Project was selected. Visitors receive a token at the gate and vote for their favorite project at the conservation voting station. Signage and often a volunteer, enlighten all Oakland Zoo visitors about the plight of these Ugandan primates.
As we have reached a critical time in the history of conserving wildlife, now is the time for all of us to care and take action. It is fortunate that most zoos do just that. We look forward to creating more ways our zoo can fully embrace the Budongo Snare Removal Project and all of our planet’s precious wildlife.