While a series of organizations are giving to a new porpoise conservation effort, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has raised $1.2 million with its members’ help. That success has encouraged AZA to bring it members together in other ways.
As the world population of the most-endangered marine mammal, vaquita porpoises, drops to around 30, both nonprofit and for-profit organizations have been rallying around a new conservation effort.
Last week, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced that, with the help of 115 members, it raised more than $1.2 million toward the VaquitaCPR emergency rescue plan, which is being led and coordinated by Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Marine Mammal Foundation. AZA’s donation was a major factor in the Mexican government pledging $3 million to the effort.
“It I think makes you feel good as an association that represents these facilities,” AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe said. “If this animal has a chance, it’s going to be represented in this rescue project, and so it makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing, and you’re doing everything you can do to help a species that really has no other hope.”
And it wasn’t just AZA’s large members, like SeaWorld or Disney’s Animal Kingdom, donating to the cause. By providing a strong mission and vision, AZA also engaged its small zoos and aquariums, as well as other nonprofits, like Global Wildlife Conservation.
While AZA members often give to conservation efforts, as doing so is part of accreditation requirements, this was the first time the group used its Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program to aggregate member support on a national scale. The vaquita is one of 10 species identified through SAFE as requiring assistance.
“And it’s not just the money; it’s the expertise,” Ashe said. “Because what we’re able to do is we’re bringing together some of the world’s best experts in dolphin and porpoise capture and care.”
Previously, conservation efforts around the vaquita porpoise were concentrated on removing threats, such as gillnet fishing and derelict fishing nets, which haven’t helped the population recover. The VaquitaCPR emergency project will change course by actually capturing some of the animals and putting them in human care, though this species has never been kept in captivity before.
It will cost about $1.2 million each year to care for the animals, and in addition to helping raise the funds, AZA expects its members will provide the expertise.
“These are the people who care for animals on a regular basis, so the benefit of that is they know how to care for animals,” Ashe said. “And so I think that our members will continue to provide support in terms of financial needs, equipment, training, and providing … the direct knowledge that’s going to be necessary to sustain the vaquita in captivity.”
The success from working through its SAFE program has encouraged AZA to also bring its members together on other issues in a similar way, including through its Member-Sponsored Species program.
“Under the SAFE umbrella, we’ll be taking this concept to a higher level where we’re going to aggregate, coordinate, and accelerate our member activity to do more in conservation,” Ashe said. “Because when 186 million visitors come to our member zoos and aquariums, we want them to know they’re not just having a safe and enjoyable experience, but they’re contributing to the conservation of these animals in nature. And so visiting one of our member facilities is, in effect, a philanthropic endeavor.”