Activity 5B: Explore

Polar bear mom and her twin cubs waiting for the sea ice to freeze

Photo: BJ Kirschhoffer / Polar Bears International

Mobilizing Your Community

Zoos and aquariums are unique among conservation organizations in that we are supported by vast communities that we regularly engage with both in-person and online. Our guests and followers represent the full demographic and political spectrum, united by one thing: they all love animals. In short, we are NOT “singing to the choir” when we talk about conservation. This presents a tremendous opportunity.

Relevance is key to the future for accredited zoos and aquariums. And to be relevant, we need to be more than just a fun and educational place to visit. Data shows that visible conservation advocacy improves guest satisfaction and is good for our brands.

Grassroots efforts

Of course, most guests don’t come to the zoo to be bombarded with petitions or pitches to engage in advocacy. To authentically and effectively connect with guests - we need to start where they’re at. Help guests feel safe about asking questions and let your conversation be guided by whatever they want to discuss. Start at a common place of fascination and wonder about the animals in your care, and see where it goes.

Online, grassroots advocacy is everywhere you look. Social media feeds, e-newsletter and websites are all asking us to do something. How do we rise above the noise? Maintain a welcoming voice, focus on the animal connection, and if appropriate, keep your tone positive and fun.

Strength in numbers

When zoos and aquariums join forces in advocacy, we can achieve big wins for wildlife. Just in the past few years, AZA zoos and aquariums secured more than $1 billion in COVID relief, $30 million for endangered species and we are close to passing the Big Cat Public Safety Act. We can apply what we’ve learned to take collective action on climate.

AZA’s regional working group structure

Recognizing that

  1. not all of us have capacity to lead on advocacy and

  2. each of us operate in different political landscapes, AZA formed working groups to identify policy issues where we have consensus and can collaborate as a region.

The goals of this new regional working group include:

Sharing information and providing resources to enable members to mobilize efficiently on priorities (such as recruiting members of Congress to the Zoo and Aquarium Caucus, securing funding for the AZA community, advancing wildlife policy priorities, and influencing regulations that affect our work).

Identifying opportunities to collaborate within our region on our own shared conservation policy priorities.

Informal regional coalitions

Many of us already collaborate with colleagues from neighboring zoos and aquariums on a variety of efforts, from animal care to education. These coalitions can also be powerful advocacy forces to effect change within states. Here’s an example:

Following a tragedy involving a “roadside tiger photo op”, the seven AZA-accredited zoos in Kansas created an informal coalition to help bring an end to private big cat ownership in their state. Speaking with a collective voice, these zoos gave testimony in support of a big cat ban, successfully outlawing big cat ownership in Kansas. They’re called the KAzoos (what an epic name!) and continue to work together on issues affecting wildlife and animal welfare.

Many hands make light work, and our organizations can increase capacity for advocacy by collaborating. Examples of collaborative advocacy include joint op-eds, testimony, letters of support and social media campaigns.


  • What are some advocacy tactics you can integrate into your engagement with guests?

  • Are you already teaming up with other zoos and aquariums in your state or region?

  • How can you take those partnerships even further to support your shared education, conservation and climate goals?

Photo: Dave Sandford


Continue on to Activity 5C–Reflect.