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Major International, National Conservation Awards Go to Saint Louis Zoo

Grevy’s Zebra Trust Selected as Top International Conservation Program
Edward H. Bean Award Honors Ozark Hellbender Propagation, Head-start, Conservation

Silver Spring, Maryland, Sept. 19, 2012 – The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) today announced that the Saint Louis Zoo received major national recognition for its wildlife conservation work, winning two of the AZA’s three awards recognizing top conservation initiatives.

The 2012 International Conservation Award went to the Zoo and its partners for the “Grevy’s Zebra Trust and AZA: A Model of Collaborative Endangered Species Conservation Program.” In addition, one of the AZA’s most historic awards, the 2012 Edward H. Bean Award went to the Zoo for its “Propagation, Head-start and Conservation Program for the Ozark Hellbender.”

The International Conservation Award recognizes exceptional efforts toward habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild. The Edward H. Bean Award recognizes a truly significant captive propagation effort that clearly enhances the conservation of the species. The awards were accepted by the directors of two centers of the Zoo’s WildCare Institute-- Saint Louis Zoo Curator of Mammals Martha Fischer, who is Director of the WildCare Center for Conservation in the Horn of Africa, which supports the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, and Jeff Ettling, Saint Louis Zoo Curator of Herpetology and Aquatics and Director of the WildCare’s Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation. The Institute’s 12 centers across the globe and inMissouritake a holistic approach to troubled ecosystems by addressing wildlife management and recovery, conservation science, and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife.

“The Saint Louis Zoo is a proven leader in wildlife conservation,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “While all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums make conservation a top priority, these awards bring well-deserved national recognition to the Saint Louis Zoo for making a positive impact on the future of these species.”

“We, at the Saint Louis Zoo, are thrilled to have been selected for both prestigious awards. The International Conservation Award represents the collaboration of 27 AZA institutions and dozens of partners in building the Grevy’s Zebra Trust. The AZA also honored the years of scientific inquiry and hard work that led to the captive breeding of the endangered Ozark hellbender,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, Dana Brown President and CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo. “Only the continued commitment of cooperative global zoo programs, heightened public awareness of the plight of these animals and increased field conservation partnerships will save these magnificent species from extinction.”

The Grevy’s zebra has undergone a catastrophic decline in numbers and range over the past 30 years and now is found only in northernKenyaand southernEthiopia. “The Grevy’s Zebra Trust is well-known as the only conservation organization in the world devoted entirely to preserving the endangered Grevy’s zebra and its habitat,” said Dr.Eric Miller, Senior Vice President and Director of Zoological Operations and of the Zoo’s WildCare Institute.

Dr. Miller added that the fact that the Edward H. Bean Award recognized the need to save the Ozark hellbender also underscores the importance of an initiative that moves us toward a better understanding of the overall health of the aquatic ecosystem of native streams and rivers.

The Ozark hellbender – a large salamander -- was historically abundant in the spring-fed rivers of southernMissouri. Surveys in the early 1990s indicated that populations had declined by 70% over the past 40 years and that only 590 individuals remained. “If there is something in the water that is causing the hellbender population to decline, it is likely to be affecting people who live near these rivers where the hellbender is languishing,” Dr. Miller added.

“The Grevy’s Zebra Trust plays a key role in global conservation by serving as a conservation champion for this endangered large mammal,” said Martha Fischer. “Moreover, thanks to the hands-on, grass roots work of the Trust, the Grevy’s zebra also serves as a flagship species by securing the future of other wildlife species inhabiting the same fragile ecosystem.”

“We were especially pleased to be chosen for the Edward H. Bean Award because it honors propagation initiatives,” added Jeff Ettling.In November 2011, this Center and the Missouri Department of Conservation announced that Ozark hellbenders had been bred in captivity—a first for either of the two subspecies of hellbender. “The Ozark hellbender – a veritable ‘aquatic canary in the coal mine’ – can tell us much about animal and human health; it is critical that we protect it.”

ABOUT AZA: Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. To learn more visit

ABOUT THE SAINT LOUIS ZOO: Ranked as America’s #1 Zoo by Zagat Survey and Parenting Magazine, the Saint Louis Zoo is widely recognized for its innovative approaches to animal management, wildlife conservation, research and education. One of the few free zoos in the nation, it attracts about 3,000,000 visitors a year. The Zoo’ WildCare Institute partners with other zoos, universities, field biologists and government agencies to develop a holistic approach: wildlife management and recovery, conservation science and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife.

About the Grevy’s Zebra Trust

Once hunted for its magnificent skin, the Grevy’s zebra(Equus grevyi)is currently under pressure from loss of habitat and access to water, illegal killing, disease, and drought. With fewer than 2,500 left and only 0.5% of the Grevy’s zebra range falling within official protected areas, their survival depends heavily upon the attitudes and engagement of local communities. Like many species facing an uncertain future in the wild, the Grevy’s zebra is being cooperatively managed and bred in international zoo programs to ensure that the herds in human care remain genetically and demographically viable for future generations. In tandem with theirex situconservation efforts, international zoos play a key role by providing support for Grevy’s zebrain situconservation initiatives in partnership with the Grevy’s Zebra Trust. The foundation of the Trust was built with the support of a handful of committed AZA partners. This year, as it celebrates its five-year anniversary, the Trust reflects on the significant accomplishments that it and its partners have achieved in a relatively short period of time.

To maximize the success of its programs, collaboration with partner organizations working in Grevy's zebra conservation is a priority of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust. The Trust believes strongly that multi-institutional/multi-donor partnerships are capable of achieving far more for conservation than any one institution or donor can accomplish independently.

The 27 AZA institutions that are partners with Grevy’s Zebra Trust include: Brevard Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Chicago Zoological Society, Cleveland Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Denver Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Rapid Relief Fund, Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Jackson Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Living Desert, Los Angeles Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Reid Park Zoo (Zoo Teens Program), Riverbanks Zoo, Sacramento Zoo, Safari West, Saint Louis Zoo, San Diego Zoo Global, Sea World/Busch Gardens, Sedgwick County Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, White Oak Conservation Center.

The Trust also cites the enthusiastic support provided by AZA’s zoo keepers through their local American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) chapters as a major factor in its success. In the last decade, five chapters of AAZK have contributed to Grevy’s zebra conservation and education activities and, when needed, emergency efforts to do their part to preserve this endangered species.

Said Belinda Low Mackey, Executive Director of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, “Five years on and I cannot believe how far we have come in this time. The unprecedented support at the Trust’s inception from several AZA partners, and especially the Saint Louis Zoo, created the foundation for the organization to become what it is today – an institution that is working hard to really make a difference for Grevy’s zebra, its habitat, and the livelihoods of the local communities in its range. The success of our programs is testament to the level of support we have enjoyed from AZA from the outset, and the GZT team is highly motivated by the strength of commitment and dedication that our international supporters continue to show us.”

About the Efforts to Save the “Ozark Hellbender

The Ozark hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) is a large aquatic salamander that can reach lengths up to 20 inches. It has a restricted range and is only found in the cold-water rivers of south-centralMissouriand adjacent north-centralArkansas. Hellbenders have broad flat heads, small lidless eyes and pronounced skin folds on the sides of their body. They can live 25+ years and their diet includes crayfish, fish, worms, and snails. Large rocks on the river bottom provide refuge and nesting sites.

Efforts to save the hellbender began in 2001, when the Ozark Hellbender Working Group of scientists from government agencies, public universities and zoos inMissouriandArkansaslaunched a number of projects to staunch that decline. These included egg searches, disease sampling and behavioral studies. In 2002, as a result of this alarming decline Center for Hellbender Conservation began a collaborative propagation and head-start program for the Ozark hellbender with the Missouri Department of Conservation and United States Fish & Wildlife Service. In 2004, funding from private donors, the Conservation Department, Fish and Wildlife Services and the Saint Louis Zoo covered the cost of building sophisticated facilities including climate-controlled streams to breed the hellbender. Over the past 10 years the Saint Louis Zoo has constructed three off-exhibit environmentally controlled rooms, two 40-foot outdoor streams and has dedicated three fulltime keeper staff to this conservation propagation program. Zoo keeper staff has been simulating the seasonal changes in photo period and water temperature to get the Ozark hellbenders to breed. While eggs had been laid every year since 2007, it wasn’t until October 18, 2011, that the first fertile egg clutches were discovered---the first captive reproduction of either subspecies of hellbender.

The Zoo has also been head-starting juveniles, hatched from eggs collected in the wild, for future release. The success of a test release in 2008 suggests that captive raised hellbenders can survive in the wild. A successful captive propagation and head-start program may be the “safety net” needed to prevent this salamander, which is endemic to the Ozarks, from going extinct. The Saint Louis Zoo is currently head-starting over 1,500 juvenile hellbenders for future release. “We have a 15- to 20-year window to reverse this decline,” addedMissouriDepartment of Conservation Herpetologist Jeff Briggler, PhD., who is the Zoo’s partner in this research effort. He cites a number of reasons for that decline from loss of habitat to pollution to disease to illegal capture and overseas sale of the hellbender for pets. “We don’t want the animal disappearing on our watch.”