AZA’s Annual Conference is right around the corner (September 12th – 17th). This year it will take place in Atlanta, Ga., and is being jointly hosted by the Georgia Aquarium and Zoo Atlanta. I can’t think of a better time to be a new addition to the AZA team.
You might be wondering what AZA’s Annual Conference involves. Every year, almost 2,000 zoo and aquarium professionals from around the country – and around the world – come together to meet and discuss challenges and achievements within the community. Discussions and meetings will involve everything from ongoing conservation projects to best practices in animal management and health care to offering the best possible experience to all visitors. It is a meeting where people who have devoted their careers to preserving wild animals and wild habitats, to taking the best possible care of the animal ambassadors in their care, to connecting people to nature come together to network and compare notes.
Another side of the accredited zoo and aquarium story that will be explored at the Conference is the business side of running one of these elite institutions and the important role each plays it is own community – whether that be as an educational facility, a great family destination, or as an economic engine for the region (accredited zoos and aquariums in the United States collectively contribute $16 billion to the economy).
On a personal note, the Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the world, and I’m specifically thrilled to see the legendary Mega-reef exhibit when I visit next week. It is one of the two largest living reef aquariums in the world. Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, often referred to as the rainforests of the ocean, and the Aquarium is committed both to its exhibit and coral reefs in the wild. Among their many field conservation programs, the Aquarium participates in long-term monitoring of a coral reef off Fiji that experienced a bleaching event in 2000. The Aquarium uses photography, videos, and fixed transects to understand how the reef is recovering – and what parts perhaps aren’t recovering as well as desired.
I’m also looking forward to visiting Zoo Atlanta. The Zoo participates in a wide range of conservation initiatives involving a number of iconic species. Perhaps the most famous are the giant pandas. Giant pandas have received the Zoo’s largest conservation investment over the years, totaling $10 million to date. Much of that contribution comes straight out of Zoo admissions, a great example of how visiting a zoo can help save animals in the wild. Another highlight is the Zoo’s two Sumatran tiger cubs – the first to be born at the Zoo in more than a decade – named Sohni and Sanjiv. Who doesn’t like to see tiger cubs?
Stay tuned, as I’ll be updating the blog with a post during the week of the Annual Conference. With all the fascinating animal, educational, and conservation sessions to attend, I’m sure I’ll have many things to share!