When people learn that I used to work at zoos, I’m often asked which zoo is the best zoo in the United States. My answer starts with my comment that there are many criteria that go into evaluating a zoo and that people have different priorities in evaluating the importance of these criteria. In my view, the “best” zoo is the one that has the greatest impact on the conservation of wildlife – as an institution. While there are many zoos in the United States that offer exceptional opportunities to learn about wildlife, present them well, have outstanding animal care staff and programs and are active participants in the conservation of wildlife species, there is one that, in my opinion, stands out – the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
WCS has come a long way since 1993, when then-director William Conway began the transformation of the New York Zoological Society into an international powerhouse for conservation, under the new name of the Wildlife Conservation Society. From the early days of my zoo career, I can still recall Bill Conway addressing a room of zoo professionals about the importance of zoos becoming centers for real conservation. He was quite clear in his message: the successful zoo of the future was going to become a conservation-centered organization – not just a place to exhibit and care for animals.
WCS continues to operate the New York City zoos (Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo), along with the New York Aquarium. Visitors at each zoo experience state-of-the art wildlife exhibits, providing enlightening glimpses into the natural world that lies beyond the city limits of New York. Its leadership position in wildlife conservation is enhanced by the professional efforts of over 200 scientists who are employed by WCS and its management over 200 million acres of protected land throughout the world. While there are other great worldwide conservation organizations, the Wildlife Conservation Society stands out through the number and variety of its effective, science-based programs – conservation initiatives that make a difference in locations across our world.
To learn more, please take a look at the WCS website.