As the world changes, so does the value our culture places on mission-based organizations, and zoological facilities are no exception. Many see zoos as simply a tourist attraction, but in fact they are centers for education, research, conservation, science and more. Sadly, many casual visitors to zoos do not realize the hard work happening behind the scenes every day, and much of that blame lies on how we share our story.

Factions of animal rights activists yearn for all zoos and aquariums to close, a viewpoint that is short sighted and perhaps partially due to the aforementioned lack of storytelling of our conservation and research efforts.

As a group, accredited zoos host more people annually than all the major sports leagues combined. This gives us the unique opportunity and responsibility to educate our visitors about the animals in our care as well as their plight in the wild. Animals in the wild face an alarming rate of habitat loss, poaching and and environment contamination, which makes the role of zoos increasingly important.

Where once zoos were a source of amusement for the curious, they have now evolved into a safe haven and in many cases a last chance for some endangered species. For those of us in the animal care field, the current rate of extinction, which some scientists estimate as dozens of species lost daily, is not acceptable. Every day, zoos are working to reverse this for as many species as we can.

The history of the San Antonio Zoo is rich with animal success stories. It was one of the first in America to utilize cageless exhibits. We are credited with work that saved the Whooping Crane from extinction. The Zoo has successful breeding of species at risk of extinction including the snow leopard, golden lion tamarins, and King Fishers – which are now extinct in the wild. Our zoo was involved in the breeding and recovery of the Californian Condor, which was nearly extinct, and we were the first zoo outside of Africa to have a successful birth of a white rhino.

We all know that people come to the zoo first and foremost to view the animals and have fun with family and friends. We never want to take the fun out of a visit. Our job is to educate our visitors while they are here in a way that is both fun and educational. We must share with our guests what accredited zoos are doing behind the scenes and across the planet.

The San Antonio Zoo takes part in, and helps fund or leads conservation projects all over the world and even right under our own feet with the Edwards Aquifer. Our Conservation and Research Department, created in 2013, is currently leading projects with the Coqui Frog in Puerto Rico and Japanese Giant Salamander in Japan, and we have ongoing conservation projects the Gulf of Mexico, Peru, Chile, Mexico, China, Africa and Asia.

Our Animal Care Specialists work within Species Survival Plans with other accredited zoos to help sustain the animals in human care. We conduct research here at the zoo and work closely with a team of veterinarians and nutritionists on a daily basis.

San Antonio Zoo School children look at a Monarch butterfly, whose population has tripled since last year. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
San Antonio Zoo School children look at a Monarch butterfly, whose population has tripled since last year. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Did you know that the San Antonio Zoo has a nature-based preschool? Currently, the Zoo educates 40 students in this state-licensed school, but in the next few years we will grow that number to 200 students a year when we move into our new school building that was formerly Sunshine Cottage.

The stories of successful conservation and research live on today and have become increasingly more significant given the current accelerated rates of extinctions that we are currently seeing. This is where zoos need to take the next step in our evolution and “turn ourselves inside out,” and that’s my vision for the San Antonio Zoo.

In the last 16 months, our Zoo has completed nearly $4 million in renovations of more than 100 animal habitats, including major renovations in our giraffe and elephant habitats. Currently, we’re working on a dramatic upgrade for our African lions that will give our animals more space and bring our guests closer to these majestic animals. This momentum is propelling us into a new master plan for the Zoo that will outline the new habitats and visitor experiences. To illustrate the new chapter in our history, we’re unveiling a new logo today that reflects the fun, animal-centric mission of our organization.

I’m proud of this Zoo, and I see the potential it has to be one of the top zoological operations in the world. Your support over the last year alone has been overwhelming as we’re on track to have record-breaking attendance. With each visit, you participate in our mission to save wild animals and wild places. Let’s write the next chapter of the San Antonio Zoo together.

Top image: Families enter the San Antonio Zoo. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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Tim Morrow

Tim Morrow is the CEO and Executive Director at the San Antonio Zoo.