The Saint Louis Zoo is a world leader in saving endangered species and their habitats, with the greatest number of active Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plans. SSPs are long-term programs for conservation breeding, habitat preservation, field conservation, reintroduction and supportive research for threatened and endangered species. U.S. zoos and aquariums spend $130 million annually on field conservation projects and have funded 4,000 projects in more than 100 countries.

Through its WildCare Institute, the Zoo focuses on wildlife management and recovery, conservation science, and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife in 12 conservation hotspots around the globe, including three in Missouri. The WildCare Institute, with the support of its conservation fellows, takes 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 Institute of Conservation Medicine focuses on diseases that affect the conservation of threatened and endangered wildlife species. Scientists study the origin, movement and risk factors associated with diseases so that they can better understand the impact of diseases on the conservation of wildlife populations, the links between the health of zoo animals and free-living wildlife populations and the movement of diseases between wildlife, domestic animals and humans.

The Zoo has a range of sustainability programs focused on recycling, encouraging reuse of materials, operating efficiently by making facilities more energy-efficient, using eco-friendly products, driving electric—rather than gas-fueled—vehicles, and selling “green” products.

Ways We Help Animals

The Zoo also has many other initiatives aimed at saving animals:

  • Communicating with the public, students and policymakers on climate change issues through a range of education programs and outreach initiatives. People learn at zoos. They learn in our formal classes, lectures, camps, teacher workshops, distance learning, zoo tours, overnights and outreach programs. Informally, visitors learn from keeper chats, docent volunteers, interpreters, signage and special exhibits.
  • Most important, they learn from observing zoo animals. At the Saint Louis Zoo, about 400,000 children and adults participate in our formal programs, including classes and Camp KangaZoo each year. And of our 3,000,000 visitors annually, about 1,900,000 interact with an educational interpreter, docent or zookeeper who provides educational experiences and information. Each year the Zoo is visited by over 1,400 school groups. Of these schoolchildren, 31% are from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and 17% are special needs children.
  • Researching the biodiversity effects of climate change. The primary focus of the Saint Louis Zoo's Research Department is reproduction. This includes studies of behavior, physiology, endocrinology and gamete biology. Zoos must enhance captive breeding programs for future conservation recovery of threatened and endangered species. Because managing recovery programs involves controlling, as well as increasing reproduction, development and testing of contraceptive methods are also important.
  • Building captive breeding programs with the long-term view of establishing assurance populations should conditions be ripe for reintroducing these endangered species into the wild.

Examples of the Zoo in Action

  • Ozark hellbenders: In 2008, the Zoo worked with state and federal agencies to reintroduce hellbenders into the wild. In 2011, the Saint Louis Zoo and the Missouri Department of Conservation announced that Ozark hellbenders have been bred in captivity—a first for either of the two subspecies of hellbender.
  • Lemurs:The Zoo's animal management, veterinary and research staff have assumed leading roles in the science of endangered species reintroduction techniques through the release of captive ruffed lemurs into Betampona Park in Madagascar.
  • Grevy’s zebra: Scientists are working with local communities in Africa to reverse the sharp decline in the number of wild Grevy's zebras. The Saint Louis Zoo is also taking a lead in this fight. With luck, the combination of captive breeding programs and field conservation efforts will save this beautiful animal before it becomes extinct in the wild.
  • American burying beetle: The Saint Louis Zoo is a leader in a captive breeding program for this endangered beetle. The Zoo has supported one reintroduction in Ohio and is reintroducing captive-bred beetles into the wild in Missouri in 2012.
  • The Saint Louis Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for Asian elephants. This is a cooperative breeding program, with a number of zoos working together to ensure the survival of the species. In addition, our state-of-the-art elephant facility, River's Edge, was designed to enable us to breed our elephants—and our plans have definitely paid off with a herd of nine healthy elephants!
  • Establishing habitat management and restoration projects in the wild and forging partnerships with a range of institutions to help species survive. The Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, with the support of its Conservation Fellows, takes a holistic approach to troubled ecosystems by addressing three key ingredients in conservation success: wildlife management and recovery, conservation science, and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife.
  • Providing well-informed views on climate change issues and pressing for beneficial change. Through visits to Washington D.C. and Jefferson City, Zoo senior officials have pressed for changes in regulation to protect animals being affected by climate change.
  • Implementing the best sustainability practices and engaging our visitors and the wider community in such initiatives as reducing energy use and waste and reusing and recycling materials at every opportunity.