Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recently recognized the North Carolina Zoo with the AZA’s William G. Conway International Conservation Award at the AZA Conference in Baltimore, Md.
This award recognizes exceptional efforts toward habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild on a global level.
The Zoo was honored with this prestigious award for its UNITE for the Environment program in Africa, which the Zoo has operated for 20 years. With support from Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the UNITE program has worked with hundreds of teachers bordering Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda since 2002.
“To win one of these awards, an AZA-accredited aquarium or zoo must reach the very pinnacle of achievement,” said Dan Ashe, president and chief executive officer at AZA. “Facilities recognized are committed to saving wildlife and wild places and enriching their respective communities.”
UNITE provides teachers and their communities with environmentally sustainable solutions that promote coexistence with nature, helping people to simultaneously reduce their impact on the neighboring national parks and improve their livelihoods.
Since 2016, teachers and students from UNITE schools constructed over 700 fuel-efficient stoves, grew approximately 12,000 indigenous trees, built 37 incinerators to destroy at least 6 tons of plastic trash collected during 68 litter clean-ups, created 223 kitchen gardens, planted over 500 banana trees, and built 191 beehives.
Kibale National Park, Uganda has a unique geography in that it has the highest diversity of primates in the world (13 species, including chimpanzees) and more than 300 species of birds, but it is threatened by habitat destruction and a growing human population around the parks in this eastern African country.
“I’m very proud that the success of our zoo’s program and team is being recognized with this award,” said Corinne Kendall, curator of Conservation and Research for the North Carolina Zoo. “This program demonstrates that community-based conservation can be a powerful tool to protect wildlife, through long-term focused efforts that empower local staff and their communities.”
“This prestigious award recognizes the North Carolina Zoo’s more than 30 years of leading by example as environmental caretakers, not only at the zoo but around the world,” said Reid Wilson, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “The Zoo’s commitment to environmental education, sustainability and wildlife preservation goes far beyond its borders. The UNITE program is just one of the many ways that the North Carolina Zoo is helping to protect endangered species worldwide.”
To learn more about AZA’s Honors and Awards, please visit https://www.aza.org/honors-awards.