Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki) is already extinct in the wild.

At the annual Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Reception, Capitol Hill got an up-close and personal view of just how important, and fascinating, biodiversity is to our planet. During the event, members of Congress spoke about wildlife trafficking and efforts to protect endangered species, and AZA representatives discussed how zoos and aquariums provide information about wildlife conservation to the public.

At the same time, members of the public were able to interact with animals and learn more about the importance of this issue. Participants interacted with sharks, a sloth, a kangaroo, and other reptiles (under the safe care of animal handlers).

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) is the accrediting body for 218 zoos and aquariums across the U.S. and eight additional countries. The organization promotes the advancement of zoos and aquariums in conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. Through conservation efforts, the AZA combats international wildlife trafficking: “[The AZA] assisted in the rescue of more than 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises from the illegal wildlife trade.” AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums rehabilitate trafficked animals and educate visitors about international networks engaged in illicit wildlife trade.

Every year, the AZA holds a reception with animals at the Capitol, bringing attention to wildlife conservation and wildlife trafficking. At the reception, the AZA honored Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) and Representative Mike Quigley  (D-IL) with the Standing Tall for Zoos and Aquariums Award. This award commemorates recipients for their support of wildlife conservation and environmental protection.

Rep. Quigley discussed the role of zoos and aquariums in wildlife conservation. As a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, Rep. Quigley continually promotes policies for science education and animal welfare. In addition, his district includes the AZA-accredited Lincoln Park Zoo. At the event, Rep. Quigley stated, “I look forward to continuing to champion the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ mission to preserve these special places for future science education, wildlife conservation, and family recreation.”

Rep. Royce also advocates for stronger wildlife conservation and anti-trafficking legislation. He introduced the END Wildlife Trafficking Act (H.R. 2494), targeting the illegal ivory trade and poaching of endangered species – the law passed in 2016. As Rep. Royce stated, “zoos and aquariums play a vital role in educating the public about how wildlife conservation impacts all of our lives. Cracking down on wildlife trafficking not only helps protect some of the world’s most majestic animals, it also strengthens U.S. national security.”

The National Whistleblower Center commends members of Congress and the AZA for sparking conversation about wild trafficking. With 70% of the world’s population living in cities by 2030, zoos and aquariums can inform and engage members of the public in anti-trafficking efforts.

At the National Whistleblower Center, the Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program advocates for stronger protections and incentives to encourage whistleblower reports on wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking, the illegal ivory trade, and poaching are contributing to the extinction of endangered animals. While serving as an educational resource for the public, Congress and the AZA should continue to recognize the role of whistleblowers in this combating this egregious crime.

The National Whistleblower Center is a member of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, which is newly part of AZA.