Last week I attended a conference in Seattle, Washington called Zoos and Aquariums Committed to Conservation (ZACC). My objective was to begin to develop relationships with zoos that are interested in bringing zoo members to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as part of their travel programs. We currently have a great relationship with the Houston Zoo in which we lead 3-day Wolf and Bear Expeditions in the spring and fall for their members. An additional fall date is designed specifically for Houston Zoo staff as professional development for zoo keepers and education department staff. Most zoo travel programs involve trips to Africa, Asia, and South America, but there are very few options to travel in the United States.

Over 40 zoos and aquariums, 20 universities, and about 60 conservation-related organizations were represented from all over the world. Over-all attendance was approximately 265 people. The format of the conference involved formal powerpoint presentations, roundtable discussions, and a poster session. The presentation topics ranged from orangutan research in Borneo, conservation efforts for Indian elephants, captive breeding of black-footed ferrets for reintroduction to organic gardening education programs in the tropics and projects to improve community healthcare in impoverished areas in the world. I was a panel member on a roundtable discussion focused on zoo travel programs, and I was the only person at the conference representing ecotourism in the United States.

I was incredibly impressed with how much conservation work zoos are doing around the world. One of the themes is that many of the most biologically diverse places in the world are surrounded by some of the most impoverished human communities in the world. It appears imperative that conservation of these areas involve the local people. The opening keynote speaker of the ZACC conference talked about how good zoos are providing information for people. However, he raised the point that conservation education needs to focus on getting to the head through the heart, rather than the reverse.

I talked with many amazing people at the conference, several of whom expressed serious interest in collaboration as part of zoo travel programs. I look forward to developing these relationships in the weeks and months ahead.