SOURCE: Denver Zoo

May 15, 2015 09:30 ET

African Penguins to "Vanish" at Denver Zoo for Endangered Species Day

The "Vanishing" Animals Are Part of a National Effort to Highlight the Growing Extinction Crisis

DENVER, CO--(Marketwired - May 15, 2015) - Denver Zoo's African penguins will "vanish" for two short periods today on the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day. The event is part of a larger, national effort organized by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) to highlight the growing importance of work to save endangered species from extinction. Many of the 229-accredited members of the AZA are coming together in a variety of ways to help the public consider what it would be like to not be able to see, learn from or connect with these incredible animals again. This is to raise awareness of the efforts to save animals from extinction and to help launch AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE).

To recognize the event, Denver Zoo's African penguins will be brought inside their building of Bird World exhibit, Presented By Frontier Airlines, minutes prior to their regularly scheduled public, outdoor feedings at 10:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Denver Zoo Curator of Birds John Azua will then speak with members of the public about the significance of the day and the importance of African penguins to the world before letting the birds back out. Guests will then learn about the species and their care at the Zoo while watching zookeepers hand-feed them.

"If there were no more African penguins left on our planet that would be a terrible situation to find ourselves in, most notably because that would indicate our oceans are in trouble as well," says Azua. "Thankfully, we're not there yet and are still in a position to save them. That's why today, we're asking our visitors to pause and consider what extinction looks and feels like so they might join us in securing a better world for animals through human understanding."

African penguins are found in southern Africa. Although most people associate penguins with frigid temperatures, African penguins enjoy warmer weather. They grow to more than two-feet-tall and can weigh around 10 pounds. They are listed as "endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). One of their primary threats is human overfishing, which has depleted the penguin's food source around breeding areas during times of the year when parents rear their chicks, dramatically decreasing chick survivability. African penguins have also been subjected to oil spills from tankers rounding the South African coastline, which have wiped out entire colonies of this species.

For decades, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been leaders in species survival, and are already working to restore more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor and a variety of aquatic species. Through SAFE, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums will convene scientists and stakeholders globally to identify the factors threatening species, develop Conservation Action Plans, collect new resources and engage the public. In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 species and then add an additional 10 species each year for the next 10 years. The inaugural 10 species include: African penguin, Asian elephants, black rhinoceros, cheetah, gorilla, sea turtles, vaquita, sharks and rays, Western pond turtle and whooping crane.

"AZA aquarium and zoo conservationists have identified more than 100 species facing the greatest threats and where accredited zoos and aquariums have unique conservation and science knowledge to contribute," Jim Maddy, AZA President and CEO, said. "Today, we're demonstrating just how profound the loss would be if we don't take action now to protect wildlife. More importantly, we are also explaining to the public just what AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are doing to save animals from extinction."

Denver Zoo is involved with many conservation efforts around the world. Most notably to support African penguins, the Zoo sent staff to Cape Town, South Africa in 2000 to assist with a world wide effort following the "Treasure" oil spill that affected more than 40,000 penguins. Staff helped rehabilitate penguins by cleaning oil off their bodies and monitoring their health through lab and blood work. Of the penguins brought in for rehabilitation more than 95 percent were saved!

Public Asked to Help Save Animals from Extinction
One of the easiest conservation actions the public can take is to visit Denver Zoo. Doing so directly supports the collaborative efforts of hundreds of researchers, field conservationists and scientists from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums working to save animals from extinction. For more information, visit www.denverzoo.org and follow the online conversation on May 15 via #savingspecies.

About Denver Zoo: Denver Zoo brings education alive, providing a unique learning experience that sparks an interest in the natural world for visitors and program participants alike. Home to 4,300 animals representing more than 600 species, the Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which assures the highest standards of animal care.

A leader in green action, Denver Zoo is the greenest zoo in the country and is dedicated to ensuring the safety of the environment in support of all species by attaining the highest environmental standards. Since 1996, Denver Zoo has participated in about 600 animal conservation projects in 62 countries on all seven continents.

About AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction
AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of zoo & aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and partners to save animals from extinction. Together we are working on saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. To learn more, visit AZAsavingspecies.org.

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