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American Association of Zoo Keepers, L.A. Chapter

Zoos have long been considered institutions of education and entertainment, but their role as conservation organizations is becoming more prominent as natural habitat around the world shrinks.

Zoos not only provide what may be the last safe havens for endangered species, but by collaborating, create important genetic reservoirs to prevent extinction for select species.

Today’s animal keepers are equipped with knowledge and passionate about their role in caring for animals by providing clean living environments and diligently monitoring health and behavior. Equally important is maintaining the psychological wellbeing of these same animals by offering the animals are mentally stimulus. Methods for accomplishing this critical task are limited only by the keeper’s imagination: scattering and hiding food throughout an animal’s exhibit; providing puzzle feeders that challenge animals to work desired food items out of the device; spreading another animals’ scent around an exhibit to stimulate a carnivore’s hunting instincts; or providing branches and leaves for an herbivore to enjoy. These strategies are referred to as enrichment. Keepers also engage animals mentally and facilitate healthcare by teaching them to present various body parts as part of an operant conditioning program. These activities are stimulating and rewarding for animals as they learn what their caregiver is asking of them.

Organizations such as the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) further this mission. The Los Angeles chapter was established in 2005 and is committed to professional development and providing animal keepers with opportunities to raise money for conservation. AAZK fundraisers held by chapters nationwide generate money and awareness for conservation programs around the globe. Bowling for Rhinos has raised millions of dollars to help protect rhinos in Asia and Africa. To date, AAZK/L.A. has raised $1,000 for elephant conservation in Cambodia, $167,000 for rhino conservation in the wild, and $4,500 for gorilla conservation in Central Africa.

For more information, call (323) 644-6004 or visit the AAZK website.