Minnesota Zoo Media Contact

If you are a member of the press, please contact: Zach Nugent
Communication and Media Specialist
Minnesota Zoo
13000 Zoo Boulevard
Apple Valley, MN 55124
952.431.9534 direct
952-250-7293 mobile
[email protected]

Apple Valley, MN September 28, 2018– The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced that the Minnesota Zoo has received AZA’s 2018 William G. Conway International Conservation Award for the “Scaling Up Community-based Rhino Conservation in Namibia” project. The Minnesota Zoo and its collaborating partners, Houston Zoo and North Carolina Zoo, were selected as the “Top Honors” recipients of this national award during AZA’s September conference in Seattle.

This annual award recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild. Winning projects are recognized as models of zoo-driven global conservation movements. For the first time this year, Top Honors winners in the International Conservation category will receive a cash award, thanks to the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation.

“With saving species as our mission, AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos aquariums collectively contribute over $200 million per year to conservation efforts around the globe,” said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe. “Minnesota Zoo’s community-based black rhino conservation program is an inspiring example of the differences AZA professionals are making through research and field conservation projects.”

The Zoo’s work focuses on the black rhino population in Namibia. The population plummeted during the 20th century due to intensive poaching pressure created by the black market demand for rhino horn. Nearly a decade ago, the Minnesota Zoo joined forces with Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia to help scale up community-based rhino conservation efforts. One key initiative was the Conservancy Rhino Ranger Incentive Program which trains, equips and motivates local community members—known as ‘Rhino Rangers’—to protect the rhino through patrols. The initiative helped cultivate a collaborative approach, which brought together the skills and resources of numerous local organizations and private sector tourism to combat poaching by supporting Conservancy rangers.

This team approach has dramatically boosted patrol effort and rhino sightings, which in turn has led to dramatic reductions in poaching over the past five years. By late August, 2018, more than a year had elapsed in the region with NO rhino poaching.

Dr. Jeff Muntifering, the Zoo’s Conservation Biologist in Namibia, said, “We hope this program will demonstrate the importance of collaboration and authentic local community engagement and empowerment in our efforts to combat illegal wildlife crime.”

Dr. Seth Stapleton, the Zoo’s Field Conservation Supervisor, said, “The black rhino is such an iconic African animal, and we’re very excited about the progress that’s been made in improving their conservation in northwestern Namibia over the past several years. It’s truly an honor to be recognized by our peers for this grassroots, community-based program that we hope will ensure that black rhino are part of the African landscape for generations to come.”

The black rhino program is conducted in collaboration with the Houston Zoo, North Carolina Zoo and numerous partners in Namibia. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums presented the award on Wednesday, September 26, during its annual conference in Seattle, Washington.

About the Minnesota Zoo
The Minnesota Zoo is a year-round destination located in Apple Valley, just minutes south of Mall of America. The Zoo’s mission is to connect people, animals and the natural world to save wildlife. For more information, call 952.431.9500 or visit mnzoo.org. The Minnesota Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and an institutional member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).