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The Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ 2nd Annual Green Summit

This week the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) mid-year meeting is being held in Palm Springs, California and hosted by the Living Desert — an AZA accredited zoological facility in nearby Palm Desert. The Living Desert is dedicated to conserving flora and fauna native to desert biomes. As of September of 2011, the Living...

This week the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) mid-year meeting is being held in Palm Springs, California and hosted by the Living Desert — an AZA accredited zoological facility in nearby Palm Desert.

The Living Desert is dedicated to conserving flora and fauna native to desert biomes. As of September of 2011, the Living Desert was one of just 225 zoos and aquariums in North America to be accredited by the AZA.

Among the workshops to be held at the conference is the 2nd Annual Green Summit presented by the Green Scientific Advisory Group of the AZA. The two-day focuses on helping member institutions adopt green practices and operate as sustainably as possible.  Lowering energy and water use and saving money are certainly priorities for these living natural history institutions, but zoos and aquariums are also conscious about improving their public image and protecting the planet through their conservation programs.

The Association’s conservation and science initiatives dictate much of how member institutions manage and propagate over 800,000 animals in their care. For some species breeding programs require intensive management while others simply manage animals for display purposes and associated education programs that raise awareness for various flagship species — charismatic fauna that draw attention to issues facing ecosystems and their collective composition of faunal groups.

The Summit, which started today and concludes tomorrow, showcases the work of green initiative leaders in the zoo and aquarium industry.  These individuals are sharing ideas and hopefully providing green tools for their colleagues to take back to their respective facilities in an effort enhance sustainability throughout the zoo community.

Since I began working for AZA zoos and aquariums in 1992, facilities were fairly conscientious about recycling plastics and soda containers.   A number of zoos even initiated efforts to recycle cell phones. But these efforts were not anywhere near as ambitious as the green initiatives we see in zoos today. Zoos are seeking out opportunities to play a more proactive role in operating sustainably and reducing their impact on the environment.  Today the industry is ahead of the game in going green.

“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are leaders in connecting their communities to nature,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “Together, they reach 175 million people, with science-based messages on the value of sustainability.”

The Association’ s Elise Waugh reported that, the Denver Zoo has a working prototype of a gasification system that converts animal excrement and human trash to clean energy.  The motorized, three-wheeled rickshaw stopped at several zoos in California before heading to the Living Desert for a demonstration at the Summit to show how the gasification technology works.

“We are so fortunate to work in such a collaborative field, where innovative ideas are shared,” said Denver Zoo President/CEO Craig Piper. “Ultimately, we must work together to ensure the well-being of animals around the world.”

Earlier this year, I reported on Oregon Zoo’s new green-certified animal hospital for National Geographic Newswatch.

The new animal health facility opened in January under budget and on time and features an array of “green” architectural features. The 15,500-square-foot, $9.15 million dollar hospital replaces a health care center less than half its size built in 1966.

Peck Smiley Ettlin Architects and Skanska USA designed and constructed the LEED silver certified building based on standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. One “green” feature integrated into the highly efficient building design is a 27,000-gallon rainwater cistern, which stores roof water intended for recycling.  The water is purified and used to flush toilets and even hose down animal patient enclosures and quarantine facilities.

To reduce electrical costs, solar energy is used to heat the water and solar tube lighting is used to illuminate the facility with natural light.

Building materials low in volatile organic compounds were selected for construction; foundation materials and cosmetic furnishings like carpet and tile, when possible were selected from recycled materials.  According to the Zoo’s communications personnel, the design and construction team exceeded their goal of recycling 90 percent of construction waste.

I couldn’t attend the AZA Mid-Year Conference this year, but I asked colleagues to attend the Summit and fill me in on the progress of zoos in this green era.




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Meet the Author

Author Photo Jordan Carlton Schaul
With training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife, as well as conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska while (While Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (While executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition he was an ex officio member of council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management. Contact Email: