Association of Zoos and Aquariums Environmental Disaster Response Initiative
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2015
Steve Olson1,2, BS, MS
1Department of Wildlife Management, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA; 2Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Silver Spring, MD, USA


Whether hurricanes, oil-spills, or forest fires, animal populations are directly affected by both natural and man-made disasters. The current response network for man-made environmental disasters involving wildlife, the largest and most prominent of which are oil spills, is comprised of a well-established coalition of players, including federal and state agencies, large corporations, NGOs and companies that specialize in response, rescue and remediation. Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, this coalition of responders faced the challenge of being better prepared to respond to future disasters and, in particular, to reduce the damage these disasters cause to wildlife and the environment.

Currently, the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) network of accredited zoos and aquariums provides a diverse talent pool that can be tapped into for increased, additive effectiveness during an oil spill event. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have the experienced animal-care professionals—including zoologists, biologists, aquarists, veterinarians, vet techs, animal data-entry specialists and many other animal professionals—who are desperately needed to respond to animal-related issues in disaster situations and who are uniquely suited for augmenting wildlife triage, recovery, rehabilitation and release activities. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums also have the resources including capture equipment, horse-trailers, boats, nets, filtration equipment, pop-up pools and animal medical supplies that most disaster responders simply do not have. However, despite its willingness to play a role, AZA is not currently included in any formal response framework. This provides the clear opportunity for AZA accredited zoos and aquariums to become more involved and more coordinated when future environmental disasters arise.

AZA is creating an association-wide environmental disaster response prototype. Conceptually, this prototype will focus on identifying and coordinating AZA animal care professionals who are fully trained, motivated and able to respond to a wide-variety of environmental disasters anywhere in the United States and possibly beyond. In order to accomplish this, the first order of business is to make sure that potential AZA responders have the requisite training certifications required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to work with hazardous materials such as oil. This would require AZA zoo and aquarium professionals to be trained in Incident Command System (ICS 100/200/700) and Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) training protocols. These are essential training protocols, which must be completed before getting near an oil spill site…or working with oiled wildlife.

AZA’s goal is to create and sustain a large, well-funded network of fully trained and certified zoo and aquarium professionals—including zoo and aquarium veterinarians—to respond to oil spills and other environmental disasters that affect wildlife in all regions of the United States and possibly beyond. This network will work to maximize the number of animals, especially threatened and endangered species that are rescued, rehabilitated and released.

AZA is immediately pursuing the following next steps:

  • Develop inventory of resources and requisite training of AZA community for disasters in offshore, freshwater and terrestrial environments.
  • Establish ICS and HAZWOPER training schedule for interested zoo and aquarium staff.
  • Ensure zoo and aquarium staff attendance at Regional Response Team and Area/Subarea Committee meetings across the country.


Speaker Information
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Steve Olson, BS, MS
Department of Wildlife Management
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO, USA

Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Silver Spring, MD, USA

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