Zoo and Aquarium Community Gathers in Atlanta

One of the many awe-inspiring sights at Georgia Aquarium - a whale shark. Copyright Jessica Greger.

This week, I’ve been lucky enough to attend AZA’s 2011 Annual Conference hosted by Zoo Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium.  With nearly 1,800 attendees and 135 AZA commercial members in the exhibit hall, it’s the place to be if you are interested in the zoo and aquarium community.

I flew in on Tuesday, arriving just in time to attend the Appreciation Reception.  This event recognizes AZA committee members, Species Survival Plan® (SSP) coordinators,  Taxonomic Advisory Group (TAG) and Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) chairs, and studbook keepers.  These are the people who volunteer their time to keep AZA committees and animals programs moving forward. It was an eye opener to see how many people devote their time and their talents to improving the lives of animals. 

Wednesday, I attended the Public Relations, Marketing, and Government Affairs Committee meetings.    The Government Affairs Committee dealt with emerging trends in conservation and in particular, how to get children more involved in environmental education.   Another highlight was the announcement about the new semi-postal stamp coming out on September 20th that will help raise money for the Fish and Wildlife Fund.  The third of its kind, the stamp will cost 55¢ with 11¢ going directly to the fund.

The Icebreaker redeption for AZA's Annual Conference at the Georgia Aquarium. Copyright Jessica Greger.

The icebreaker at the Georgia Aquarium in the evening was an amazing event.  The aquarium was just as beautiful and fascinating as I’d expected, especially the coral reefs, the beluga whales and the whale sharks.  The coral reef exhibit was stunning with an array of sea horses, clown fish, and waving sea anemones.  During the behind-the-scenes tour, we got to see the beluga whales, which can be up to 16-feet long, swim up to the surface of the tank and play with the sea otters.  The highlight of the evening was the whale sharks. The biggest fish in the world, whale sharks have been reported as being 41.5 feet in length and weighing up to 79,000 lbs.  Walking through the hallways of the exhibit with the panoramic view all around was awe inspiring  – particularly when a whale shark would swim slowly overhead. 

Seahorses in the Coral Reef exhibit at Georgia Aquarium. Copyright Jessica Greger.

Thursday opens with the General Session featuring Chip Heath, bestselling author of Switch and Made to Stick.  Heath, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, teaches courses on business strategy, and we are lucky enough to have him teach us a thing or two as well.  He believes that today’s accredited zoos and aquariums have become synonymous with conservation, education and science. 

At noon on Saturday, the Honors and Awards luncheon will commence.  Outstanding people and projects at AZA accredited zoos and aquariums will be recognized.  Awards include the Edward H. Bean Award, the National and International Conservation Awards, the Diversity Award, the Education Award, the Exhibit award, the Marketing Awards (for campaigns above and below $175,000), and the brand new Green Award.

Zoo Atlanta's giant panda Yang Yang. Copyright Zoo Atlanta.

After the luncheon, Zoo Day and the Twilight Safari Party at Zoo Atlanta will beckon.  There will be great food, entertainment – and, of course, the animals!  Zoo Atlanta houses over 200 species and more than 1,000 animals total.  I’m excited to see the new tiger cubs I’ve heard (and seen on the webcam) so much about, as well as the giant pandas – Zoo Atlanta is one of only four zoos in the U.S.to house giant pandas.

It’s been a wonderful experience to see all the accredited zoo and aquarium professionals come together to network, share ideas and plan for the coming year. What an exciting community to be a part of.

Elise Waugh

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