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The Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) has always been groundbreaking - as evidenced by its claim to zoo.org and its pioneering work in biome displays, now the gold standard in zoo exhibits. And, the powerhouse isn't done improving the lives of animals inside and outside of its walls.
David C. Wu, the Chief Advancement Officer for the Woodland Park Zoo, and Kerston Swartz, the Public Affairs and Advocacy Manager at Woodland Park Zoo, recently shared how the Woodland Park Zoo is leading the way in conservation through corporate and philanthropic partnerships.
What do you see as the primary purpose of the zoo?
Swartz: Obviously a major focus of WPZ and other zoos and aquariums that are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, our accreditation body, is extraordinary animal care. [Equally important] is our ability to mobilize people around conservation action. We go into every interaction with anyone who comes here or sees us on online as an opportunity to fundamentally change relationships between animals and that person.
We know that people learn in different ways so we might do that with a really cute otter picture, which we use a lot; or we might do that with a heartfelt conservation story from one of our field partners as far away as Malaysia and Russia; we might do that by talking about one of our conservationists here on staff. We really have a personal touch with most of our audiences.
How does the zoo communicate about conservation?
Swartz: We have various ways we get our conservation messaging out to folks. It might be through extraordinary public programming. Or it might be through being able to see the penguins. Or it might be through a volunteer walking around and connecting with people. We also have an incredibly robust social media presence.
Wu: The piece here that we are striving for, what makes us world class, is that we are essentially studying the role of the zoo in creating empathy relative to the human-animal connection. We are looking at that causal interface between that experience when you look into an animal's eye while you are here, and then it ultimately creates that empathy track that moves you to go home and do something right away on behalf of animals.
It's a piece that we are getting better at and we are constantly working toward. We are going to end up scaling with the support of philanthropy to move across institutions here in the West, and then ultimately across the U.S.
What is one success the zoo has had in promoting conservation?
Swartz: We know that animal trafficking is probably the biggest threat facing not only exotic species like tigers, elephants, and rhinos but also our local species. Many of our local species are over-harvested or poached to be sold overseas or locally as food delicacies or decor or various other things. About three years ago we took a bill to the state capital and tried to get the legislature to pass a wildlife trafficking ban in Washington state. It failed.
We were very fortunate in that Vulcan, Paul Allen’s company, cared very much about this issue as well. We got into a great partnership with them and we ran a phenomenal voters campaign to pass a wildlife trafficking ban in Washington State. And it passed by over 70 percent in the state. Every county passed it. We were really bolstered by that. Where Vulcan definitely provided a lot of the resources that we used for the campaign, the megaphone was the Woodland Park Zoo as well as our partners. It passed and then our legislature didn’t fund it.
So we spent two years in Olympia saying to them "Look, your voters mandated this." We finally got some really good funding for this enforcement.