AZA appoints new Chair of the Board and selects 13 projects to receive Conservation Grant funding

AZA, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has appointed Bert Castro, President & CEO of the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation/Phoenix Zoo, as new Chair of the Board.

AZA has announced Norberto J. (Bert) Castro as the new Chair of the AZA Board of Directors. Castro is the President and CEO of the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation/Phoenix Zoo and has a wealth of experience in the sector.

In addition to this, AZA has also selected 13 projects to receive Conservation Grants funding. Grants totaling just over $275K will support research and conservation initiatives around the world

New Chair of the Board of Directors

“To say that Bert is going to be facing a challenging year as Chair of the AZA Board of Directors would be a severe understatement,” says Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA.

“As AZA members deal with the pandemic, pivoting from being closed to recovery, while also leading progress towards greater social justice in their communities,  Bert’s leadership and experience will be instrumental. I look forward to working closely with Bert and the entire AZA Board of Directors to explore the opportunities that these substantial challenges will present to and within our member community.”

In his new role, alongside three other executive officers and nine board members, Castro will be involved in all aspects of AZA, from accreditation, ethics and animal welfare to conservation. He will serve for one year, starting from 1 October 2020.

Last year, the 240 AZA-accredited facilities contributed $231 million to field conservation projects, protecting species both in the US and across the world. Together, these institutions were visited by over 12 million students, communicating vital conservation messages. In addition, these facilities contribute almost $23 billion to the US economy and support 208,000 jobs.

“At this time of unprecedented turmoil throughout the world, it is more important than ever for the AZA community to be leaders in wildlife conservation, particularly as human health issues continue to arise as a result of habitat loss and human/wildlife interaction,” says Castro.

“I am honoured and humbled to assume the role of Board Chair and look forward to working with the dedicated and passionate group of zoo and aquarium professionals that make up the AZA.”

penguin AZA

A strong career

Castro has been a member of AZA since he began his career in 1985 and has worked at a range of organisations including Tulsa Zoo, Audubon Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, the San Antonio Zoological Gardens and Aquarium and the Oklahoma City Zoological Park and Botanical Garden. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Zoology and a Master of Science Degree in Environmental Studies.

During his time with AZA, Castro has served on the Diversity Committee, Ethics Committee, and was Chairman of both the Government Affairs and the Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee. He is now serving a second term on the AZA Board of Directors, following a stint from 2009 – 2011.

Castro has also served as an AZA Executive Leadership Development Program mentor, been a member & Chair of the Zoo Conservation Outreach Board and the Board of the Foothills Community Foundation. He was also appointed by Obama to serve on the Institute of Museum and Library Services Advisory Board.

Conservation grant funding

AZA has awarded Conservation Grants Fund (CGF) grants totaling $275,056 to 13 research and conservation projects led by AZA members.

The CGF dates back to 1984 and when it was created to support the cooperative conservation-related scientific and educational initiatives of AZA members and their partners. Areas of funding for include research, field conservation, education and outreach, animal welfare, animal health and animal management.

Red Panda AZA

“Despite a global pandemic and declining revenues, AZA-accredited facilities continue to work tirelessly on conservation projects around the world,” says Ashe. “Investment in conservation will likely decline in 2021, so I am grateful we have supporters such as the Disney Conservation Fund to help assure we can continue to support critical field conservation projects. There is no doubt AZA members remain focused on making this a better world for people and wildlife.”

After a competitive review of 70 applications, 13 projects were chosen to be funded for 2020. These cover various countries around the world and will benefit an array of taxonomic groups. They will be implemented by staff at AZA member facilities of all sizes, as well as by individual AZA members working at non-profit organizations, government agencies, and universities.

“Making funding recommendations this year was particularly difficult,” said an AZA statement. “Many excellent submissions were reviewed. In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic and all of the resultant challenges, AZA members are committed to helping people and wildlife thrive together and these projects exemplify this commitment.

The 2020 Conservation Grants Fund recipients as are follows:

  • Andean Highland Flamingos Conservation Monitoring Program. Daniel Hilliard, PhD, Zoo Conservation Outreach Group. Guillermo Cubillos Torres, Zoológico Nacional de Chile
  • Characterization of Sand Tiger Shark Enclosure Use and Behavior to Understand Wellbeing and Reproduction. Lara Metrione, PhD and Nancy Ho, South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction & Conservation (SEZARC). Carol Price, PhD, North Carolina Aquariums
  • Expanding the Coexistence Co-op: Mitigating Human-Wildlife Conflict to Protect Vultures and Lions. Darcy Ogada, PhD, The Peregrine Fund. Alayne Cotterill, PhD, Lion Landscapes
  • Identifying Conservation Priorities for the Critically Endangered Large-Antlered Muntjac, Muntiacus vuquangensis, in One of its Last Strongholds. Michelle Hatwood, Audubon Nature Institute’s Freeport McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center
  • Ngogo Chimpanzee Project Snare Removal Program. Kevin Langergraber, PhD, Arizona State University. John Mitani, PhD and Samuel Angedakin, Ngogo Chimpanzee Project, Inc.
  • Proudly Serving Biodiversity: Unifying the AZA to Demand Bird Friendly Coffee. Justine Bowe and Ruth Bennett, PhD, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park
  • Reintroducing the Madagascar Pochard to Establish a Self-Sustaining Population on a Community-Managed Lake. Leslie Wilmet, PhD, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
  • Spatial Requirements for Conservation Management of Imperiled Queen Conch Using No-Take Reserves. Andrew Sebastian Kough, PhD, John G. Shedd Aquarium
  • Spreading Our Range: Expanding Vulture Conservation Efforts from Tanzania to Zambia. Corinne Kendall, PhD, North Carolina Zoo
  • Sulu Hornbill Conservation Project. Roger Sweeney, North Carolina Zoo
  • Understanding and Improving Disease Outcomes during Reintroductions of an Endangered California Amphibian. Talisin Hammond, PhD, Debra Shier, PhD, and Candace Williams, PhD, Zoological Society of San Diego
  • Use of Un-Baited Camera Trapping to Assess Threats, Survival and Recruitment to Restored Grand Cayman Blue Iguana Population in the Salina Reserve. Frederic Burton, Cayman Islands Department of Environment. Christine Proctor, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology
  • Emergency Action to Reduce the Impact of Yellow Fever on Golden Lion Tamarins in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Zoo Atlanta

Earlier this year, AZA teamed up with Kino Marquee to offer virtual screenings of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, telling the story of biologist Dr Anne Innis Dagg.