From 11 – 14 October 2021, zoo and aquarium professionals from around the world gathered online for a virtual annual conference organised by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the global alliance of regional associations, national federations, and institutions.
Attendees at the 76th WAZA Annual Conference 2021 were not able to meet in person as a result of the global pandemic. However, they were still able to enjoy four days of insightful keynotes and fascinating presentations. There were also opportunities to connect with their peers and take part in a range of topical discussions.
Approximately 900 registered participants from more than 30 countries around the world took part in the event. This year, it was also offered in Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish. WAZA extended its thanks to the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA), Chimelong Safari Park, Chile National Zoo, and Fundación Temaikèn for making this possible.
Sponsors included Imagine Exhibitions, a leader in worldwide travelling exhibitions and entertainment, and Brogent Technologies Inc., a leading manufacturer of media-based attractions.
The event began with a warm welcome from outgoing WAZA president, Professor Theo Pagel, who in his opening address spoke about the importance of WAZA member organisations:
“Zoos and Aquariums are places for animals and humans. The change we want to see in the world starts on our doorstep, inspiring our visitors and inspiring future generations to care,” he said. He then went on to welcome the first keynote speaker for this year’s WAZA conference, Razan Al Mubarak, President of The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In her speech, Al Mubarak talked about the need to boost efforts to protect biodiversity. She also looked at the key role the WAZA members can play in IUCN’s mission. On behalf of the IUCN, she pledged to work closely with WAZA.
“Zoos & aquariums play a crucial role in exposing people to nature, educating the world about wildlife & nature,” says Al Mubarak. “WAZA and its members also play a key role in helping IUCN to fulfil its mission.”
Zoos & aquariums play a crucial role in exposing people to nature, educating the world about wildlife & nature
Later on day one, there was a global panel session on COVID-19. This looked at both the challenges and the positives associated with the pandemic. While it was a difficult time, it also showed how much the public value and need zoos and aquariums, according to the panellists.
Following this, Paul Smith of Botanic Gardens Conservation International spoke about his organisation, and some of the opportunities for BGCI and WAZa members to collaborate, saying: “BGCI primarily has a conservation focus and our mission is to mobilise botanic gardens and botanical expertise for plant conservation, people and the planet.”
Day two of the WAZA Annual Conference 2021 began with a keynote address from Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Her speech looked at the role of zoos in conservation as well as in supporting the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
“Our future and wellbeing depend on protecting, sustainably managing and conserving our biodiversity and ecosystems, both ex-situ and in-situ,” she said during her keynote address.
This was followed by a WAZA short guide on carbon. There was also an update on Reverse The Red from Dr Jenny Gray of Zoos Victoria, Dr Judy Mann-Lang of SAAMBR & Kira Mileham of IUCN. Together, they showed how WAZA members can get involved in each of the four pillars of work.
Later on day two, Prague Zoo was honoured with the WAZA Conservation Award. This was in recognition of its ‘Return of the Wild Horses’ conservation programme. Meanwhile, the WAZA Environmental Sustainability Award went to North Carolina Zoo, highlighting its long-term commitment to sustainability. Sustainable practices have been a key part of all operations at the attraction since 1989.
The second day of the conference also featured WAZA short guides on palm oil and on how to choose sustainably sourced forest products.
Day three of the WAZA Annual Conference 2021 began with an update on the WAZA code of ethics. This was presented by Lori Gruen & Ron Kagan.
“We wanted to think to the future, to the young people who want to see ethical change. Zoos and aquariums are places that can set an ethical tone,” said Gruen.
The third keynote was delivered by Professor Mauro Guillen, a leading author and the Dean of Cambridge Judge Business School. His presentation explored some future trends. He also encouraged zoos and aquariums to embrace technology, as well as talking about their potential:
“Zoos and aquariums bring knowledge and culture to the population. They enable both children and adults to learn. An they have the potential to enrich our lives in so many different ways.”
Following this, Paula Cerdán gave a presentation on the WAZA 2023 Animal Welfare Goal, before a panel discussion moderated by Dr Alejandro Grajal.
“This is really what WAZA is all about,” said Myfanwy Griffith during the discussion. “It’s about us being this progressive Zoo and Aquarium community. We are working together to share best practice, to continually raise and improve our standards.”
More presentations followed in the afternoon, including a session on the WAZA Nature Connect Grants programme.
The final day of the WAZA Annual Conference 2021 began with a keynote address by Dr Brian Davis, CEO and President of Georgia Aquarium and Chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). On the topic of Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion, AZA’s 5th promise, he said:
“You need as many people as possible on this journey. That ensures everyone, & the animals that we work to protect at zoos & aquariums, has a place where they can thrive. How do we make sure that everyone has a seat at the table?”
“DEAI is actually a journey, not a destination. We’re all moving through it together, learning and growing. The first part of this journey is knowing the lens that you view the world through. Then you can better understand how to bring people together.”
Day four also featured updates from a number of WAZA Committees and WAZA partners. Throughout the event, WAZA welcomed several new members by showing introductory videos.
As the conference began to draw to a close, the Heini Hediger Award was presented to Dr Simon Tonge, former CEO of Paignton Zoo /Wild Planet Trust, in recognition of his outstanding service and lifelong commitment to the global zoo community.
Finally, Pagel shared a detailed President’s report before the AGM took place. This finished with the handing over of the Presidency to Dr Clément Lanthier.
“We would like to sincerely thank Prof Pagel for his excellent leadership, and we welcome Dr Lanthier,” says WAZA. “We also welcome the returning and new WAZA Council members.
Next year’s WAZA Annual Conference will take place at Loro Parque, Tenerife, from 24 – 27 October 2022.