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Shedd partners to keep species SAFE

Nickel -- Shedd Aquariums rescued sea turtle -- is among the 10 inaugural species AZA SAFE will focus efforts on protecting.
Nickel — Shedd Aquariums rescued sea turtle — is among the 10 inaugural species AZA SAFE will focus efforts on protecting.

Shedd Aquarium has been a safe haven for endangered species for more than 40 years.

From the earliest days of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, Shedd – along with local partners the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo — have made a commitment to conserve threatened and endangered species within our habitats and in the wild.

Now, on the 10th annual Endangered Species Day, Shedd, Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield are joining with 226 other accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to harness their collective knowledge and resources in a new initiative, AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction.

Species identified as being at the greatest risk will be matched to the aquariums and zoos with the specific experience and expertise to save them from extinction and restore them to healthy populations in the wild. The SAFE project will focus on 10 species, or in some cases whole classes of animals, this year and add more each year for at least the next decade.

The inaugural focus animals are African penguin, cheetah, sharks and rays, western pond turtle, sea turtles, vaquita, Asian elephant, black rhinoceros, gorilla and whooping crane—several of which Shedd, Lincoln Park and Brookfield already have active conservation programs for.

At Shedd you can see 56 species of invertebrates, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that are at risk of disappearing from the planet in our lifetime. That dire prediction is based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal and plant species, as well as on scientific assessments by FWS, the Illinois Endangered Species Board and AZA.

The at-risk species include such familiar and favorite animals at Shedd as the rockhopper penguins (threatened), sea otters (endangered), green sea turtle (endangered), the 14-foot green sawfish in Wild Reef (critically endangered), all the colorful mantella frog species in Amphibians (either endangered or critically endangered) and two Illinois protected species, the alligator snapping turtle and the lake sturgeon, both in At Home on the Great Lakes and both listed as state endangered.

Humboldt penguins -- an endangered species -- at the Brookfield Zoo.
Humboldt penguins — an endangered species — at the Brookfield Zoo.

To illustrate the dire threat faced by the animals on Endangered Species Day, each Chicago-area organization has its own plans to highlight its efforts toward saving animals from extinction. At Lincoln Park Zoo, a dark film is being placed over the wild dog, chimpanzee, Micronesian kingfisher and smooth green snake habitats, demonstrating how these species are becoming much more difficult to see in the wild.

At Brookfield, animal care staff with guests about the threats faced by Blanding’s turtles, Amur leopards, Humboldt penguins and Mexican gray wolves, species the zoo has focused long-term conservation efforts on. In addition, a simulated field station with the reticulated giraffes enables guests to how Brookfield’s conservation work extends well beyond the zoo’s campus.

At Shedd, projected images of disappearing species light up and fade on the walls surrounding the Caribbean Reef exhibit, home to Shedd’s endangered green sea turtle. More threatened and endangered species in each gallery and exhibit are highlighted with special signage telling their stories and Shedd’s conservation efforts on their behalf.

Throughout the first year of AZA SAFE, the three organizations’ combined audience of 7.4 million guests, including more than 547,000 students, will learn what personal steps they can take to support the total of 91 global conservation programs led by the Chicago zoological facilities, helping to ensure that these important species thrive for generations to come.

Chimpanzees -- like these at the Lincoln Park Zoo -- are among the species AZA has identified as threatened.
Chimpanzees — like these at the Lincoln Park Zoo — are among the species AZA has identified as threatened.

Today, on Endangered Species Day, imagine that you could never again see, learn from, or connect with the many at-risk species in the care of Shedd, Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo. Now expand that to 19,817 species of animals and plants that are threatened with extinction. Their loss would not only be heartbreaking; it would also be catastrophic for those species remaining, including us.

It doesn’t have to happen. The informed choices you make every day, from the kind of seafood you eat to what you plant in your garden to how you get to work, will make a difference for threatened and endangered wildlife. Find more information on how you can help at www.azasavingspecies.org. And visit Shedd, Brookfield Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, or your nearest AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium often. Not only will you gain a greater appreciation for at-risk species and the programs to save them, but through your ticket purchase or membership, you’ll also be supporting those programs, and be a partner in the Save Animals From Extinction effort.