15 Sep 2019 Attractions Management Handbook

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Attractions Management Handbook - A Global Impact

Analysis and Trends

A Global Impact

The advancement of zoos and aquariums within conservation, education, science and recreation has an invaluable impact on the future of wildlife and communities worldwide. Jim Maddy of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) reports

Jim Maddy, AZA
Jim Maddy – AZA president and CEO
More than 50 million visitors to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are children, making them essential to environmental education Photo: © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder
Aquarists and curators are keen to share their work with the public
AZA-accredited zoos have allowed red wolves to prosper in the US

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a 501(c) non-profit organisation dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in conservation, education, science and recreation.

AZA represents more than 200 institutions in the US and overseas – collectively drawing over 182 million visitors annually. These facilities meet the highest standards in animal care and provide a fun, safe and educational family experience.

For visitors, AZA accreditation is an assurance that they are supporting zoos and aquariums where the animals are getting the best possible care, where there is a deep commitment to conserving wildlife and wild habitats, and where the staff comprise highly trained professionals who provide excellent care for more than 800,000 animals, making them the leading experts in care and animal welfare.

In addition to being dedicated to maintaining standards of excellence in animal care and welfare, AZA-accredited facilities provide visitors with exciting opportunities to connect with wild animals in a safe setting while having an invaluable impact on local communities and the world.

Conservation is a priority for AZA-accredited facilities and is key to their missions – they serve as conservation centres that dedicate millions of dollars to support scientific research, conservation and education programmes. Every year, US$160m (£96m, €118m) is spent on field conservation, supporting more than 3,600 projects in 130 countries. This provides society with the opportunity to develop personal connections with the animals in their care, while playing a vital role in maintaining our diverse wildlife and natural habitats.

Species Recovery
Zoos and aquariums have long been seen as important contributors to species recovery. Since the 1960s, iconic animals worldwide have been identified as endangered – or even extinct in the wild – and their reproduction in zoos and aquariums has helped recover and support their populations in the wild. Species recovery is a global endeavour that includes work in our own communities. It is thanks, in part, to accredited zoos and aquariums that the US can still claim California condors and red wolves among its wildlife ranks.

Field Conservation
AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums do much more than save species on the brink of extinction – they make substantial contributions towards coordinating, participating or supporting conservation projects that directly contribute to all types of field work, provide veterinary and rehabilitation care in the face of wildlife disease and injury, conduct lab and field research on ways to protect species or ecosystems in the wild, and create opportunities to increase conservation awareness, advocacy, action, capacity and fundraising.

Each year, AZA member institutions spend around US$160m (£96m, €118m) on these wide-reaching projects in more than 130 countries.

Sustainable Practices
Habitat loss and degradation (resulting from pollution, over-exploitation, invasive species and climate change) are significant threats facing wildlife worldwide. Conserving resources can lessen this and therefore AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums strive to conserve the natural resources utilised in their business operations.

Sustainable practices are implemented to reduce water/energy usage, decrease waste, and encourage green products and renewable energy. From developing water filtration systems in aquatic exhibits that save water; installing solar panel arrays; creating innovative waste-to-energy systems; receiving ISO 14001 certification for effective environmental management and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certifications; and working with visitors and vendors to offer sustainable food options, AZA-accredited facilities are inspirational public examples of putting conservation talk into daily operations.

Sound Science
AZA believes that conservation, in addition to animal management, husbandry and veterinary care, should be based in science, and that a commitment to scientific research is a trademark of the modern zoo and aquarium. AZA-accredited facilities conduct or facilitate research to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, improve reintroduction methodologies, develop new tools for monitoring animals in the wild, examine disease transmission between domestic and wild animals and test bird-friendly options for zoo and aquarium construction.

Research carried out with accredited zoos and aquariums in sensory biology, physiology, nutrition and reproduction and cognition has increased our understanding of the species being investigated and provides results which may be of benefit to the health of animals in wild populations. For conservation activities to achieve their intended outcomes, accredited facilities rely on research and science.

Cooperative Conservation
AZA cooperates with conservation partners and AZA members work collaboratively within committees, animal programmes and scientific advisory groups to guarantee that sophisticated conservation and research programmes are successful.

An abundance of educational information, planning tools and guides, databases, funding sources, awards and specialised conservation projects have also been created to advance animal conservation initiatives and strategies, such as AZA’s Green Guide and Guidelines to Develop an Institutional Conservation Strategic Plan, as well as AZA’s Smart Source – a national purchasing cooperative exclusively for AZA members – which includes a focus on green initiatives and sustainability.

Two of AZA’s most prestigious programmes to support members’ conservation initiatives are its annual awards and the Conservation Grants Fund (CGF). Since its inception in 1991, the CGF has provided over US$5.7m (£3.4m, €4.2m) to more than 320 conservation projects in over 55 countries. More than 70 AZA-accredited and certified related facilities, in addition to university and non-profit agencies, have received CGF funding. Grants are awarded in six categories: animal health, animal welfare, conservation education, field conservation, management and/or breeding, and research. The two-tier review process includes subject matter experts and makes it extremely competitive. Support for the CGF comes almost exclusively from AZA members. Since 1999, the Walt Disney World Company and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund have provided significant financial support, increasing the funds available for AZA members’ conservation projects by over one third.

Whether saving species on the brink of extinction or ensuring species never reach that state, visitors can trust that AZA-accredited facilities are working hard to protect wildlife and habitats for the future.

AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums also provide the public with essential connections to the natural world by serving as centres for conservation involvement. More than 50 million visitors to AZA-accredited facilities are children, making them essential to science and environmental education. AZA-accredited facilities train 40,000 teachers every year, supporting state science curricula with teaching materials and hands-on opportunities for students who might otherwise have no first-hand experience with wildlife. In fact, there is growing evidence that aquariums and zoos are highly effective at teaching people about science and connecting them to the natural world.

Educators at AZA-accredited facilities are trained to help visitors make connections with the incredible resources found there. It is a skill known as interpretation – a communication process that builds intellectual and emotional connections between the things people are curious about and the greater significance of those things. The zoo keepers, aquarists and curators working with the animals are also keen to share their work with the public and to relate what they do to their enthusiasm for animals. People are invited to ask them questions, hear their stories and make them part of the learning experience.

Additionally, aquariums and zoos not only offer the opportunity to connect with animals at their parks, but also through conservation projects that encourage local community involvement in action that supports the habitats and animals where we live. Education is a major component of these projects, sharing perspectives on ways we can live cooperatively with wildlife, utilise resources wisely, and successfully integrate conservation practices into our daily lives. In this way, aquariums and zoos help make vital connections among people of many cultures and communities, as well as offer safe places for children to play and explore the natural world, to learn from trained educators how to interact responsibly with the environment, to have fun, get exercise, and to establish valuable, life-long connections with animals and their habitats.

The annual operating and capital outlays of attractions accredited by AZA provide important economic benefits within local and state economies and generate important economic benefits nationally and internationally. These benefits include growing gross domestic product (GDP), creating wages for workers at the institutions, and supporting jobs throughout the economy as the initial spending by zoos and aquariums is re-spent and re-cycled.

AZA-accredited US facilities spent US$4.6bn (£2.8bn, €3.4bn) in 2012, according to Stephen S Fuller, PhD, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University (see Table). This was divided between annual operations expenditures of US$3.5bn (£2.1bn, €2.6bn), plus US$1.1bn (£660m, €800m) in capital improvements. Not included were the significant spending outlays of concessionaires that provide retail and food services at these facilities. Including the operating expenses of these businesses would grow the total economic impact of the respective attractions even more.

Another source of important revenue in the community surrounding AZA-accredited facilities is the off-site spending of their visitors in combination with their visits. While not all guests combine their visit with commercial activities, research has shown that some do and that this spending can be significant, particularly when it stems from out-of-town tourists. Visitors to AZA-accredited attractions in 2012 numbered 181.9 million globally, while 169.4 million of those visited an accredited establishment in the US. The visit-related, off-site spending of those visitors in the US has been estimated at US$2.4bn (£1.4bn, €1.8bn). Here is a summary of the economic benefit of the facilities and their visitors in 2012:

• Direct expenditures by US AZA-accredited attractions of US$4.6bn (£2.8bn, €3.4bn) contributed US$13.2bn (£7.9bn, €9.7bn) to the US GDP, based on the use of an aggregate output multiplier of 2.88.

• Direct spending generated US$4.4bn (£2.6bn, €3.3bn) in wages and salaries for US workers and supported 132,015 jobs in the US.

• Before-and-after visitor spending, estimated to total US$2.4bn (£1.4bn, €1.8bn), added an additional US$6.6bn (£3.9bn, €4.9bn) to GDP, generated US$2bn (£1.2bn, €1.5bn) in wages, and supported 61,971 jobs nationwide.

• Total contribution of AZA-accredited facilities to the US economy in 2012 was US$19.8bn (£11.8bn, €14.6bn), generating personal earnings of US$6.4bn (£3.8bn, €4.7bn) and supporting 193,986 jobs.

• Eight of AZA’s ten international member organisations reported direct annual operating and capital expenditures totalling US$490.7m (£293.3m, €360.5m) in 2012. This added an estimated US$1.1bn (£660m, €800m) in aggregate benefits to the economies of these international members’ countries, generated US$352m (£210m, €259m) in new wages to local workers (in addition to direct payroll outlays) and supported 10,772 jobs across their respective national economies.

These analyses have confirmed that the economic impacts of annual spending by AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and the visit-related, off-site spending by their guests have benefits that far exceed the value of the initial investments, constituting an important source of income and jobs that contribute across the local, state, national and international economies.

The future of zoos and aquariums is critical to the future of our wildlife and wild places. These attractions are more popular than ever before – a good thing as they are more necessary than ever as engines of wildlife conservation.

Not only will they continue to work directly in the field to save species, they will continue to build the next generation of wildlife conservationists with rich educational programming, vibrant exhibits and amazing live animal experiences. They will also continue to be powerful economic engines in their communities.

AZA-accredited facilities are key to education

Programmes for students and teachers:
- 12 million students (pre-K through Grade 12: 4-18 years old) visit AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums each year as part of a school field trip
- 11 million students participate in formal on-site education programmes each year
- 4 million students participate in formal off-site education programmes every year
- AZA–accredited zoos and aquariums conduct training for 40,000 teachers annually

Community resources for diverse audiences:
- 100% of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have an educator on staff and a well-developed education programme geared toward the needs of their communities
- 82% of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums offer programmes for underserved audiences including individuals with special needs, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged
- 94% of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums offer early childhood (pre-K) programming
- 87% of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums involve students/teens in volunteer programmes
- One third of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums offer after-school programming
- 15% of AZA member institutions conduct distance learning programmes

Working with Federal, State and Local Education Agencies:
- 25% of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums collaborate on initiatives/projects with their State or US Department of Education
- AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums with school programmes and materials aligned with their State’s education standards (97%) and Local education standards (86%)
- 27% of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been involved in their State’s Environmental Literacy Plan



Jim Maddy
Jim Maddy President and CEO AZA

Jim Maddy is president and CEO of AZA and a nationally recognised leader in conservation policy and advocacy. Under his leadership, Jim has grown AZA’s membership and budget; implemented a successful plan to improve association member services; and raised the positive profile of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums as drivers of tourism and economic development; as leaders in animal care and welfare; and as key players in the conservation of wildlife and wild places.


Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2014 edition

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