Recap of the 75th WAZA Virtual Annual Conference

The 75th WAZA Virtual Annual Conference was due to take place in San Diego, in the United States, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic the conference was moved to an online format. And while we were disappointed not to be able to meet the conference attendees in person, we were delighted to be able to welcome so many people to the virtual conference. Over 700 people from 48 countries/regions around the world registered for the conference, which is the most participants we have ever had for a WAZA conference. 

Keynote Speakers

Over the four days of conference we heard from our keynote speakers, Sahil Merchant, James Gomme, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema and Ivonne Higuero.

Sahil Merchant, a partner at McKinsey & Company was the opening keynote speaker on Monday 12 October. He gave an inspiring presentation on leading in a complex world and challenged people not to do more but to do things differently. 

James Gomme, Director of Sustainable Development Goals from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development discussed the importance of zoos and aquariums contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) praised the valuable role of zoos and aquariums in conservation and conservation education, as well as how they have contributed to the goals of the CBD and can help support the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

And on the final day, Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) discussed the importance of the collaboration between zoos and aquariums with CITES and how they can further engage with CITES and its committees. Higuero called on WAZA member zoos and aquariums to be even more involved in providing their scientific expertise to CITES activities.


Over the four days we heard a variety of fantastic presentations and panel discussions on diverse topics. A global panel on COVID-19 saw panellists sharing their different approaches to overcoming and handling the crises presented by the pandemic in their respective countries. A panel on ‘The Paths Towards Reducing Carbon Emissions in Zoos and Aquariums’ examined decarbonization, deforestation and reforestation looking at examples from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Helsinki Zoo and Taronga Zoo. We heard the latest updates on Reverse the Red – a social movement to reverse the negative trends in species extinction, calling for strategic action and collaborative partnerships. Corina Newsome gave a thought-provoking presentation on disrupting homogeneity and how zoos and aquariums can promote and achieve inclusion and equality.

Updates were shared on WAZA activities over the past 12 months, including progress towards the WAZA 2023 Animal Welfare Goal, the recently launched WAZA Animal-Visitor Interaction Guidelines, Expedia’s Animal Welfare Policy and WAZA’s work with the International Air Transport Association (IATA). And we heard about progress on the WAZA sustainability commitments with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), as well as more about the WAZA Short Guide on Single-Use Plastic – click the video below to see the video on the guide, which was launched at the conference.

Newly Launched Strategies

The conference saw the launch of two new WAZA Strategies. Karen Fifield, WAZA Council member, Chair of the Ethics and Animal Welfare Committee launched the Protecting Our Planet, WAZA Sustainability Strategy. A big thank you to Karen for all her hard work on the strategy as well as to her fellow collaborators. The Sustainability Strategy is currently available to download in English, Bahasa Indonesia, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian. 

Dr Sarah Thomas from Auckland Zoo launched the new Social Change for Conservation – The World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Education Strategy. The strategy is a joint WAZA /International Zoo Educators Association (IZE) effort, and is the first unified global strategy on conservation education. A big thank you to Sarah and all of those who contributed to creating the strategy. 

WAZA Award Winners

Prof Dr Jörg Junhold with the Heini Hediger Award

During the conference, WAZA presented the 2020 WAZA Awards.The top honour of the year, the Heini Hediger Award was presented to Prof Dr Jörg Junhold, Director of Zoo Leipzig in recognition of his outstanding service and commitment to the zoo community.

The Detroit Zoological Society was presented with the WAZA Environmental Sustainability Award on the second day of the WAZA Annual Conference for their sustained efforts to reduce the ecological impact through their winning programme, including clear and achievable goals on waste reduction and avoidance.

The WAZA Conservation Award was awarded to Georgia Aquarium for its robust and holistic approach to whale shark conservation, balancing scientific learning, habitat protection, education, capacity building and advocacy to improve the outcomes for this charismatic species since 2004.

Please click here to read the full release and to see the award acceptance speeches.

Congratulations to all the winners and runners up!

And Finally

The conference came to an end on Thursday evening with the Annual General Meeting. WAZA President Prof Theo Pagel shared a detailed President’s report on the past 12 months of WAZA, and members voted to approve the minutes of the 2019 WAZA Annual General Meeting, the 2019 finance report and the 2021 budget.

We would like to thank our generous conference sponsors, exhibitors and donors for helping make the conference possible.

Silver Sponsor
Hanart Culture LLC

White Rhino Exhibitors
Carl Stahl ARC Cable Mesh Design + Build

San Diego Zoo Global

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