OKC ZOO REPORTS RECORD-BREAKING YEAR FOR LOCAL, GLOBAL CONSERVATION EFFORTS
For decades, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden has been a premiere destination, providing a family friendly environment where guests can connect with and learn to care about plants and animals from around the world. Most recently, the Zoo has achieved record-breaking results in its efforts to bolster another core value—providing platforms to support and share the importance of informed wildlife conservation.
Funds supporting the Zoo’s wildlife conservation activities during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which ended June 30, totaled $270,000. The Zoo has earmarked these combined funds to support both local and global conservation programs. Of this amount, the Zoo’s grassroots program, Round Up for Conservation, in which guests can “round up” to the next dollar amount when making purchases at the Zoo, generated a record-breaking $95,661.85.
“We are thrilled to announce this overwhelming support for the Zoo’s Round Up program,” said Dr. Rebecca Snyder, Zoo conservation and science curator. “This effort began just five years ago and the citizens of Oklahoma have shown an ever-increasing desire to make a difference through their dollars in hopes of better stewarding and preserving the planet for future generations.”
Round Up for Conservation Fund
To prioritize this year’s Round Up funds, the Zoo surveyed staff members to help specify projects that were most important to them. Based on the results, saving a critical habitat ranked as the highest priority for this year’s conservation initiatives. Other top issues included saving a specific animal species, expanding “green” practices at the Zoo, supporting local community conservation projects and targeting conservation measures in a major geographical region.
Subsequently, the Zoo determined to partner with two major conservation organizations in Asia. The Zoo began a partnership with Rainforest Trust to purchase 13,000 acres of rainforest in central Sumatra, an area five times the size of Oklahoma City’s Lake Hefner. The Rainforest Trust’s mission is to purchase acres of endangered land and then empower local people to help protect it by offering them education, training and employment. The Zoo’s purchase was part of the Trust’s “Saving Sumatra’s Rarest Wildlife” project, which purchased and protected more than 200,000 acres, an area 80 times the size of Lake Hefner. This lowland forest is rich in biodiversity and is now designated as a protected area, safe from conversion to palm oil plantations and logging and patrolled to prevent illegal activities, such as poaching. It is home to some of the Zoo’s most popular and endangered species, including Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers, and Sumatran orangutans.
Round Up funds also enabled the Zoo to form a partnership with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Myanmar to support an Asian elephant conservation project in the Rakhine Yoma Elephant Range of southwestern Myanmar. In Myanmar, legal and quasi-legal capture to supply work elephants for the timber industry has decimated wild populations in the last few decades, resulting in up to 6,000 captive elephants and leaving only between 1,500 and 2,000 individuals in the wild. Zoo funding will pay the salaries of Elephant Protection Units, and purchase equipment, rations and education materials used to raise awareness in villages around the protected area. The Range is also home to a multitude of other species.
Other Round Up funds were designated for four Conservation Action Round-Up Engagement (CARE) grants designed to provide full-time Zoo staff members the opportunity to identify conservation projects that they believe are worthy of the Zoo’s support; an emergency intervention to help save wildlife and critical habitat in Ecuador due to a major earthquake; conservation-related travel that enabled a variety of Zoo staff to meet with conservation partners on site and to bring guest conservationists to the Zoo for education and consultation purposes; and Zoo public awareness days that provided on-grounds activities in support of conservation celebrations, projects, or featured species or habitats.
Legacy Conservation Partnerships
Yearly funding from the Oklahoma Zoological Society (OZS) enabled the Zoo to continue strong, long-term commitments to specific wildlife conservation programs through its Legacy Conservation Partnerships. This fiscal year, these six, long-standing partners received combined funding in the amount of $110,000. These projects included the annual animal surveys to monitor winter bird, bat and lesser prairie chicken populations in Oklahoma through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC); a new project supporting the restoration and protection of the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve through the The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Oklahoma; a partnership in Kenya with the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) to support the Lekurruki Conservancy in its efforts to save and protect species such as Grevy’s zebra, African elephant, giraffe and cheetah; the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI); a new partnership to help eliminate the extinction of turtles through the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA); and the conservation of ecosystems in Ecuadorian reserves, wildlife rescue and endangered species breeding through the Jatun Sacha Foundation.
Grants, Research and Campaigns
In addition to these Legacy partners and projects funded by the Round Up program, the Zoo funded four smaller programs that increased the Zoo’s global impact. Through the Conservation Action Now (CAN) Grants program, the Zoo helped support Captive Rearing of Masked Bobwhite, a critically endangered species found only in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico; the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project, which aims to create commensal co-existence between a heavily hunted chimpanzee population and human community in Central Sierra Leone; Exploring Genetic Diversity and its Effects on Fitness Across Different Environments in the Endangered Grevy’s Zebra, one of Africa’s most threatened large mammals; and Using Chili-Grease Technology to Promote Elephant Conservation within Bia Conservation Park, which seeks to address plantation and crop raiding caused by elephants, conserve remnant elephants and prevent retaliatory killings. Furthermore, through the newly established Graduate Student Conservation Research Fund, the Zoo will help train and support select graduate students from universities in Oklahoma conducting conservation-focused research for their master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. The Zoo also provided its annual contribution to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Grants Fund and the Bowling for Rhinos fundraising campaign.
Small Connecting Events
Finally, the 2015-2016 fiscal year saw the success of several small, intimate fundraising events to support specific species and wildlife conservation issues related to that species in the wild. Hosted by Zoo keepers in the habitats of each species, attendees observed special animal enrichment, behind-the-scenes tours, art sales and more. Those events included Evening with Elephants, Evening EscApe and Cocktails with Cats.
Moving into the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which began July 1, the Zoo expects the amount of funding available for wildlife conservation to increase due to even higher funding goals, a focused and informed approach based on staff surveys, and increased public involvement and messaging.
“Sharing information and clarifying our conservation message helps guests make the direct connection between their daily actions and their impact on the environment both abroad and in their own backyard,” said Snyder. “We will continue to support a broad range of conservation efforts that is representative of the Zoo’s animal collection, build on the strong connection Zoo guests have with these animals, and encourage them to understand and care about the problems these species face in the wild.”
Protect what you love! Learn how to care for, connect with and conserve all things wild. The Oklahoma City Zoo is a proud Adventure Road partner and member of Oklahoma City’s Adventure District located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Buildings close at 4:45 p.m. daily. Regular admission is $8 for adults, and $5 for children 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free. Are you a Zoo fan? Find us at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To learn more about these and other happenings, call (405) 424-3344 or visit www.okczoo.org.