June 06, 2024

By the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Top image credit | WCS Nigeria


Zoos and aquariums are much more than places to see wildlife from far away places. They’re home to extensive conservation research and advocacy, protecting species now and in the future.


An African painted dog laying on a grave ground. This canid species has large round years and brindle-like black and tan markings all over its fur. It looks like a dog with Mickey Mouse ears.


Saving Animals From Extinction® programs

Every year, Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) member facilities invest more than $200 million in activities directly benefiting animals and habitats in the wild. One example of this is the AZA’s Saving Animals From Extinction® (SAFE) program, bringing AZA-accredited facilities together to share expertise and save species.

With SAFE, the AZA community takes conservation to the scale needed to have a meaningful impact on wildlife conservation generally, and species survival alongside people specifically.

In 2023, SAFE grew to 41 species and taxonomic-wide programs and published three more species program plans. SAFE added seven new programs that will benefit the African elephant, Mexican wolf, North American bison, North American freshwater mussels, ocelot, Perdido Key beach mouse and sunflower sea star. By the end of March 2024, a 42nd SAFE program was created to benefit red pandas and three more program plans were published.


The SAFE programs fund work happening abroad, like this group of community rangers who are receiving their parol instruction.
Credit | WCS Nigeria


SAFE species featured on Wild Kingdom

Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom is a proud partner and supporter of AZA SAFE and serves as a member of AZA’s Commercial Member Engagement Council.

“Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’s mission is to inspire the next generation of wildlife lovers to preserve species under threat of extinction in our modern world. As such, we are proud to support the important work of AZA SAFE and its mission to leverage the power of zoos and aquariums to save animals from extinction,” said Jennifer Wulf, Mutual of Omaha vice president of brand marketing.

The impact of SAFE’s work can be seen worldwide. Because of SAFE, the Zambian Department of National Parks and Wildlife now has enhanced staff capacity. This allows staff to use technology and leverage law enforcement and wildlife field data to help protect African elephants and black rhino. SAFE programs have also worked to better understand the movements and behavioral patterns of cold-stunned sea turtles that strand in the Northeast and are rehabilitated and released in Florida.


Male lion with a tan and dark brown mane licks his top lip as he looks at the camera.

African lions at Zoo Boise not only receive top-notch care and enrichment, they’re doing the important task of public education for their conservation in their native country.
Credit | Naomi Clayton, NAC Photography


“The collaboration between AZA organizations is not only impressive but imperative to conserving the SAFE species and teaching future generations the importance of doing so. We’re partnering with many AZA organizations to highlight their work in our new series Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild, through digital content and in our 2024 Wild Kingdom Calendar,” Wulf said.

SAFE is a framework to help the AZA community do more and better conservation. SAFE protects threatened animals, builds on established recovery plans and a history of commitment, prioritizes collaboration among AZA member institutions, implements strategic conservation and stakeholder inclusive activities and measures and reports its conservation progress.



Wild Kingdom has shared these conservation stories and the AZA zoos and aquariums who are working tirelessly for conservation on its series, Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild. SAFE species featured on the series include black-footed ferrets, sunflower sea stars and sea turtles.

In addition to television spotlights, Wild Kingdom highlights SAFE programs each month on social media channels. Fans can learn facts about these species and read stories from AZA facilities directly involved with the programs. Spotlight species include chimpanzees, Asian elephants, Andean highland flamingos and sloth bears.


Four people wearing blue disposable hospital gowns and face masks pose for the camera. One is holding a pink flamingo, one they just did a health check on. They're standing in a sparse field in the Andean Highlands with a mountain range behind them.

Scientists track and study Andean Highland flamingos in Chile.
Credit | Zoológico Nacional de Chile


The future of AZA’s SAFE program

And there are more SAFE stories to share. Over the course of the last year, SAFE species programs and partners:

  • Enhanced wildlife authorities’ scientific capacity to detect wildlife poisoning and their ability to provide veterinary interventions to save poisoned African vultures and other wildlife via a five-day workshop in Kenya
  • Planted more than 8,000 trees across six sites in the Kinabatangan rainforest of Borneo to provide healthy habitats for orangutans
  • Improved eastern indigo snake hatching success, allowing 30 animals to be released at each of two reintroduction sites in the southern United States
  • Developed a Best Practices in Handling and Welfare working group to create decision trees, strategies, tools and other resources for use when handling elasmobranchs in human care and in the wild


An Andean bear walking through the forest. The bear is black and has a brown snout.

A field camera caught this picture of an Andean bear.


Each year, SAFE species programs celebrate species-related days, weeks and even full months to raise awareness, educate the public, engage people in conservation action, elevate new voices and raise funds to support their species’ conservation activities.

AZA supports SAFE species programs through two granting programs. With SAFE as AZA’s signature conservation brand, funds are directed only to projects that advance the objectives of SAFE species programs. In 2021, JoEllen Doornbos, a generous AZA donor, contributed $1 million to create an endowment that will support SAFE species programs in perpetuity. AZA doubled donations to the endowment in 2023 by successfully matching multiyear challenge grants from the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation, initial funders of one of the two granting programs. Mutual of Omaha is a strong supporter of the SAFE granting programs and has made significant financial contributions over the past several years.


A women walking through grass in a hilly range. There are large trees on the hills behind her and the sky is very foggy.

Habitat restoration at Tatama National Park in Colombia is vital to Andean bear conservation.


“Together we are saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. The mission of SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction is to combine the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA members and partners to save animals from extinction,” said Dan Ashe, AZA president and CEO.

“We’re grateful for Mutual of Omaha’s support in promoting SAFE to the public by featuring SAFE species on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and through the work they’ve done to financially support the SAFE programs in place in the wild. Their partnership has been a vital component of AZA’s mission to protect wildlife and wild places.”

For more information and to learn how you can help save animals from extinction visit

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