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What is AZA SAFE? A Look Inside Zoo and Aquarium Conservation for Monarchs

Apr 20, 2023


  • Community Science
  • Conservation Stories
  • MJV Partnership News

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) flagship conservation program, Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE), aims at doing just that by connecting accredited zoos, aquariums, and external partners to leverage their reach and solidify efforts in the name of protecting imperiled species. Of the 33 SAFE programs, monarchs are the sole insect on the list.

While zoos and aquariums don’t often host collections of butterflies on exhibit, their beautiful gardens and education staff provide an unending amount of opportunity for visitors to see conservation in action. The monarch butterfly calls zoos and aquariums across the nation home as part of its native range. This butterfly’s incredible migration has inspired wonder and cultural celebration for decades, and over 100 AZA institutions recognized the need to be a part of the solution. But with so much passion and potential, there was a need to join forces and learn from one another rather than reinvent the wheel hundreds of times over. This shared passion for the conservation of a beloved and iconic insect inspired the creation of the SAFE North American Monarch program.

SAFE Monarch was launched in 2020, acknowledging that the challenges monarchs face are vast but that the role zoos and aquariums can play in their conservation can be incredibly impactful. It quickly rose to be one of the largest SAFE programs building collaboration among 100 AZA institutions and 20 external partners and advisors. The program was created by examining existing monarch conservation plans, bringing partners to the table for discussion, and outlining strategic goals. Using social science to build an effective plan, this program seeks to limit the barriers to participation by structuring conservation with organizational activities that address habitat loss, pesticide use, disease, and climate change. Program partners actively contribute to public engagement, community awareness, and habitat restoration. They work across departments, within their communities, and with stakeholders to create change.

Zoos and aquariums from coast to coast are installing pesticide-free, native monarch habitat throughout their properties to serve as onsite examples for visitors. They are unifying messaging and amplifying the voices of experts through public engagement, community science, and programming. They are working with stakeholders to transform acreage on private land and implementing hands-on experiential school curriculum. They are supporting boots-on-the-ground field research and providing funding. There is no program too big or too small. Zoos and aquariums are joining to make a difference in monarch conservation. The “All Hands on Deck” motto stretches far and wide when it comes to pollinator conservation, and MJV is happily supporting SAFE Monarch through assistance in program coordination and steering committee participation.

This year celebrate the annual AZA Party for the Planet, kicking off on Earth Day, April 22nd, running through Endangered Species Day, May 19th, and ending on World Ocean Day on June 8th. This year’s theme, Building Healthy Habitats, asks you to get outdoors to connect with nature, create habitats, and reduce and clean up litter. Visit an accredited zoo or aquarium and become a part of the solution with the AZA SAFE Monarch Network.