Zoo Staff Making a Difference

At the North Carolina Zoo, conservation is at the heart of what we do. We believe that the animals you see at the Zoo are ambassadors for their counterparts in the wild and that all our staff have a role to play in wildlife conservation. Thanks to the leadership and hard work of zookeepers and other staff across the Zoo, thousands of dollars have been raised to support wildlife conservation. Behind the scenes tours and other new programs are helping to save the wild cousins of the animals that live here at the Zoo. Here are a few examples of ways our staff are making a difference for saving endangered species from extinction.


Arctic Ambassador Center

The North Carolina Zoo is among an elite group of 40 zoos, aquariums, and museums that are Arctic Ambassador Centers (AAC) through a partnership with Polar Bears International (PBI). PBI is the leading polar bear conservation group in the world that works to conserve polar bears and the sea ice that they depend on. Since 2009, the Zoo has supported four keepers, two volunteers, and one educator to attend PBI'S Climate Alliance Workshop in Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada. Churchill is considered the polar bear capital of the world because the population of bears that migrates through the area (about 1,000 individuals) outnumbers the population of people that live there year-round (about 800 individuals). While there, attendees learn all about polar bears in a warming Arctic, and how to effectively interpret climate science to friends, family, and Zoo visitors. Attendees are also empowered with the tools to make a big impact within their communities in ways that will have a local and global effect on our environment. 


Outreach on Sustainability

As an AAC, North Carolina Zoo also participates in outreach programs that promote sustainable practices within the Zoo and within local community entities such as grade schools, community colleges, universities, local businesses, libraries, and the YMCA. These outreach programs consist of reusable bag giveaways and recycling presentations, reusable water bottle giveaways, water conservation presentations, and energy efficiency campaigns that help empower individuals to make a positive impact at home. We organize annual tree plantings that help us beautify the community while educating participants about the important role that trees play in cleaning the air we breathe and reducing our carbon footprint. We also strive to facilitate continual improvement of environmental practices within the Zoo and within our own homes. 


From Behind the Scenes into the Wild

Every year keepers work tirelessly not just to care for the animals at the North Carolina Zoo but to ensure fun and engaging visitor experiences. As part of these efforts they work closely with the NC Zoo Society to provide incredible behind the scenes tours. In addition to raising awareness about threats wild animals face, funds from this work also support the Zoo’s conservation programs, as well as keeper-selected conservation organizations to receive financial support. In 2018, keepers have elected to sponsor Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, a group focused on conserving southern ground hornbills in South Africa, the American Oystercatcher Working Group which studies coastal birds in North Carolina and with whom our staff have also volunteered, and the Turtle Survival Alliance which protects endangered turtle species all over the world.


Providing hands-on support to wild animals

Keepers at the Zoo also provide hands-on support to conservation organizations as and when needed. One organization keepers recently supported on the ground was the Turtle Survival Alliance. In April 2018, an estimated 10,000 radiated tortoises (a Critically Endangered species) were rescued from a house where they were being kept by wildlife smugglers in Madagascar. The turtles that were still alive were placed in the care of the Turtle Survival Alliance while a plan was developed for their release back into the wild. North Carolina Zoo staff assisted in the effort to rehabilitate and care for these rescued tortoises by traveling to Madagascar to offer their skills in animal husbandry and construction to assist in ensuring the turtles received the care they needed. 


Keeper-led Fundraising to Help Wildlife Conservation

The American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) is a non-profit, volunteer-led organization made up of professional zookeepers and other interested individuals. The mission of AAZK is to advance excellence in the zookeeping profession, foster effective communication that is beneficial to animal care, support deserving conservation projects, and promote the preservation of natural resources and animal life. To increase its impact and reach, the AAZK has several local chapters, including one here in North Carolina. A primary goal of the AAZK’s North Carolina Chapter (NC AAZK) is to raise money for conservation programs we are passionate about. Keepers at North Carolina Zoo accomplish this by participating in two national fundraising events—Bowling for Rhinos and Chopsticks for Salamanders, as well as several local initiatives led by keepers from the North Carolina Zoo.

Bowling for Rhinos

Bowling for Rhinos (BRF) is an annual event held across North America to raise funds in support of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, International Rhino Foundation, and Action for Cheetahs in Kenya. NC AAZK has hosted a BFR event every year since 1990 and has raised over $177,000! Collectively, chapters like ours across the nation have raised over $7 million since 1990! The 2018 BFR event, held in Greensboro on September 12, will include Laser Tag, prizes for top money raisers, as well as a silent auction. Spots for the 2018 event can be reserved here.

Chopsticks for Salamanders began in 2011 to promote forest stewardship and salamander conservation. The main aim of this event, held in partnership with the Foundation for the Conservation of Salamanders (FCSal), is to encourage the use of re-usable chopsticks, which in turn will reduce pressure on wild salamanders from deforestation for production of disposable chopsticks. In addition, the program also raises awareness of the threats faced by salamanders living along the Appalachian Mountain Range, from Alabama to Canada, an area which boasts the highest diversity of salamanders in the world! 

The NC AAZK also host several locally-run, keeper-inspired fundraising events for conservation at venues across North Carolina. For example, Tossing for Tamarins (the main event being Cornhole) raises funds for golden lion tamarin conservation, Cinco de Gato raises funds to support ocelot conservation in the United States, and Brews for Bears in support of climate change mitigation and habitat restoration. 

The NC AAZK’s flagship event is the Run Wild! 5K, held in June every year. Funds raised from this exciting run on the Zoo’s grounds are used as the Chapter’s budget for the following year. Most of the budget is dedicated to supporting two local and two global conservation groups voted on by Chapter members. Some funds are also used to support professional development for members or to supplement the budgets of other zookeeper programs, such as BFR and activities during the National Zookeeper Week. More information on these and other NC AAZK programs can be found on the Chapter’s Facebook page.