AZA Mid-Year Takeaway - “I’m Sorry I Didn’t Know About You.”

Chelsea Clinton spoke eloquently last week in Phoenix at the Mid-Year AZA Conference about the gathering urgency in the conservation space as she discussed her new book Don’t Let Them Disappear. As she shared stories about the universal love of animals by kids and how important animals are to children, one comment she said stuck with me. She was relaying a story about her daughter who was reading through an encyclopedia of sharks, stopped at one page, paused, and upon seeing one shark she didn’t know about, said with a sigh, ‘Hello shark, I’m sorry I didn’t know about you.’

For me, that’s part of the ‘why’ of aquariums and zoos--they prompt a deep emotional connection for kids (and all guests) with the animals we care for, their place, and potential plight in the world. Upon asking why she wrote the book, Chelsea talked about how we are all here together–both animals and people–and the need to protect this place where we all live.

The theme of all being here together resonated for me throughout the conference starting at Dan Ashe’s opening remarks. Dan talked of policies of addition, not exclusion, and working collectively when talking of working with partners to advance our collective goals and mission.

While at the diversity summit, it was noted that while we understand the importance of the diversity of species for SSPs, we should also know how critical the diversity of our community is to our own long-term survival and relevancy across every spectrum.  We discussed how privilege and bias aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves--they just are--yet we need to know and acknowledge our own biases and privilege. The Summit’s excellent speaker, Eric Bailey, shared a great slide which framed the day’s discussion, Vulnerably step into that which you do not know. The experience that is different than yours is an opportunity to learn.’

My biggest takeaway from the conference is that there is a new sense of momentum and positive energy across the AZA community, whether it’s working collectively to further our missions; advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility topics; or just getting more people to ‘know about you’. As Dan Ashe noted, Momentum + Opportunity = Success. Take advantage of the momentum, seize the opportunity and achieve success.