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Conservation Group Helps Zoos and Aquariums “Show the Wild Face of Climate Change”

Rockhopper penguin (Photograph courtesy IUCN CBSG)
Rockhopper penguin (Photograph courtesy Two Oceans Aquarium)

People often ask me what zoos and aquariums around the world are doing to promote climate issue awareness and to reduce their own carbon footprint. Since zoological facilities are deemed high profile stewards of nature and natural resources, the expectation has been that these living institutions should be at the forefront of the climate control movement. Indeed they are leading the way under the auspices of the IUCN’s Conservation Breeding Specialist group.

A few years ago I reported on green initiatives of zoos and aquariums, including one article announcing the Oregon Zoo’s new veterinary hospital, a facility that was inspired by ecologically sound engineering practices. I also reported on climate awareness education initiatives of a consortium of accredited zoo and aquariums in North America.

Climate change is still very much in the headlines and I presume it will be for a long time. In fact, my most recent post addressed whether or not the forest lands of the Pacific Northwest were likely to become more of a source of carbon emission or a carbon sink. Concern for global warming related to elevated or uncontrolled carbon emissions has not gone away, nor is it going to any time soon. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are at 440 parts per million and rising.

Kemp's Ridley Binational Marine Turtle Project (Courtesy of Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownesville, Texas)
Kemp’s Ridley Binational Marine Turtle Project (Courtesy of Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownesville, Texas)

Efforts to reduce concentrations in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million are underway, but so too, are the unwelcomed effects of climate change like ocean acidification, sea level rise, extreme weather events, and interrupted seasonal cycles. These activities all have potential to negatively affect wildlife. Many species are already experiencing these disruptions.

Last month, under the auspices of the CBSG, zoos and aquariums around the globe joined one the largest organizations on the planet specifically campaigning to address the climate crisis. They embraced an opportunity to join 350.org’s growing movement of activists combatting climate change. According to their website, “350.org has organized coordinated days of action that linked activists and organizations around the world, including the International Day of Climate Action in 2009, the Global Work Party in 2010, Moving Planet in 2011, and Climate Impacts Day in 2012.” Click here to watch videos of these global mobilizations. 

350.org was launched in 2008 by a group of university friends and author Bill McKibben. Bill penned one of the first books on global warming aimed at reaching the general public.

“When we started organizing in 2008, we saw climate change as the most important issue facing humanity, but climate action was mired in politics and all but stalled. We didn’t know how to fix things, but we knew that one missing ingredient was a climate movement that reflected the scale of the crisis.

Photograph courtesy the Cheetah Conservation Fund
Photograph courtesy the Cheetah Conservation Fund

The Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), a specialist group of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN), has invited zoos, aquariums, and other conservation organizations to join a global campaign to address climate change through divestment from fossil fuels, carbon reduction, and offsetting, and education initiatives such as “Show the Wild Face of Climate Change.” This site will be shared with government officials and other policy makers around the world.

On May 22nd zoos and aquariums around the world participated in a day of action to draw attention to the “Show the Wild Face of Climate Change” campaign. According to the CBSG, the event was “held in observance of the UN International Day for Biological Diversity. The initiative shined a spotlight on the risk to biodiversity posed by climate change, and united the world’s zoo and aquarium community in calling for urgent action on climate change.”

“The ‘Show the Wild Face of Climate Change’ initiative was the largest single-day global zoo event in history,” said George Rabb, President Emeritus of the Chicago Zoological Society and former Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “The success of this day for climate change action is a good omen for future campaigns to engage zoos to recruit their visitors and members as global citizens with responsibilities for the global commons of the atmosphere, waters, available lands, and biodiversity.”

CBSG’s mission is to save threatened species by increasing the effectiveness of conservation efforts worldwide. CBSG provides species conservation planning expertise to governments, Specialist Groups, zoos and aquariums, and other wildlife organizations.

“The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation.”