By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is joining WildAid, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), and the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) in a campaign to educate children and families about the illegal wildlife trade.
During the campaign, the OKC Zoo will host a series of video messages, billboards, and posters featuring DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda’s Master Po Ping at its facility as well as on social media.
Po, the protagonist of DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda franchise, proclaims, “poaching steals from us all,” as he helps defend elephants who are killed for their ivory, rhinos for their horns, lions and tigers for their bones and skins, and pangolins for their scales and meat. The campaign will be ongoing throughout 2019.
WildAid is a non-profit organization that works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn, and shark fin soup.
“We’re very excited to partner with AZA and WTA to educate millions of youth and families about the poaching crisis,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. “Through this partnership, we can inspire the next generation of conservationists who can help end the illegal wildlife trade.”
Wildlife crime is a multi-billion dollar global industry driven by consumer demand for products made from animal parts. The United States as one of the largest illegal wildlife consumer markets in the world. A 2016 WildAid survey found that 80 percent of Americans consider themselves wildlife lovers or conservationists, yet four out of five knew little or nothing about wildlife trafficking.
“AZA-accredited facilities are leaders in conservation, with a vision of a world where all people respect, value and conserve wildlife and wild places,” said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe. “By partnering with WildAid on this campaign, we are calling attention to the serious problem of illegal wildlife trade affecting vulnerable species. By strategically leveraging our assets together, we can educate thousands of zoo and aquarium visitors about this critical issue.”
Over the last 50 years, the African wild lion population has decreased from 200,000 to an estimated 20,000. During the recent poaching epidemic, up to 33,000 elephants have been killed each year in Africa. An estimated 420,000 remain in the wild today, down from a population of 1.2 million in 1979.
“The new campaign with WildAid is an exciting example of how the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance will continue to expand its partnership opportunities that raise awareness about wildlife trafficking, reduce poaching, and directly benefit critical wildlife populations around the world,” said Sara Walker, Senior Advisor on Wildlife Trafficking at AZA. “Only by joining together can we reduce—and eventually end—the scourge of wildlife trafficking.”
OKC Zoo Chief Marketing Officer Greg Heanue said, “The OKC Zoo is committed to conservation education and this partnership will help convey the importance of protecting the planet’s wildlife and wild places to a new generation.
“WildAid, AZA and DreamWorks understand how critical stopping the illegal wildlife trade is to the protection of endangered species,” Heanue added. “We are proud to support this effort.”
Other the participating AZA institutions include: Brevard Zoo, Capron Park Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, El Paso Zoo, Great Plains Zoo / Delbridge Museum of Natural History Indianapolis Zoo, Jenkinson’s Aquarium, John Ball Zoo, Lion Country Safari, Los Angeles Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Racine Zoo, and Zoo New England Assets.
To learn more about these and other Zoo happenings, call visit okczoo.org.