Confronting the Extinction Crisis

According to many scientists, we are entering what is being called the “sixth extinction period” in world history. This mass extinction is happening every day, in all parts of the world, and the sad part is that humans are responsible for much of the crisis through activities such as deforestation and destruction of natural habitats, the over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution, and the poaching of wildlife for fur, tusks and/or other body parts. While that is the bad news, the good news is that humans can also play a large role in correcting these problems.

In particular, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and its accredited members are working to put an end to this crisis and are uniquely positioned to help make a positive difference. As experts at AZA-accredited facilities care for more than 750,000 animals representing 7,000 species—many of which are listed as endangered or threatened, AZA-accredited facilities are literally the seed of a healthier future for these species at risk. Already, through the AZA’s Species Survival Plan® (SSP), a complex breeding program that manages “studbooks” to ensure the genetic health and sustainability of wildlife populations in AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos, has been instrumental in helping to bring back more than 30 species from the brink of extinction.


The AZA’s newest conservation initiative, entitled AZA SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction, will focus initially on 10 species that have been identified by leadership within the AZA community as species that can strongly benefit from the use of AZA community’s scientific expertise and resources in helping to improve the conservation statuses of these species.

To begin, the 10 species that SAFE will focus on include African penguins, cheetahs, gorillas, western pond turtles, Asian elephants, sea turtles, sharks and rays, whooping cranes, vaquitas, and black rhinos. Through SAFE, AZA and its members will convene scientists and stakeholders both nationally and internationally to identify specific threats to these species, develop action plans, create new resources, and engage the public. SAFE harnesses the collective power of all AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos and expands the existing collaboration with other wildlife supporters, ultimately making a bigger impact on protecting the future of these endangered animals.

The crisis will only worsen if we do not take action. AZA-accredited facilities are prepared to further deepen their partnerships with international conservation organizations to secure protected areas for wildlife and help the public become more aware and engaged about issues affecting wildlife across the globe. AZA and its members have a proven track record of success, but our work is not done. From small to large, from land to sea to air, more species are in need of being saved from extinction, and we hope you will join us in this cause.

For more information on how you can help, please visit:

“The sixth extinction may well be caused by human factors, but the people of AZA accredited institutions, and their supporters and visitors are playing key roles in fighting this crisis.” – Jim Maddy, AZA President.