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Smithsonian's National Zoological Park Wins Major Awards for Conservation and Diversity Education

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced Sept. 19 that the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park has been awarded Top Honors for the 2012 AZA International Conservation Award for its Scientific Approaches to Conservation of Giant Pandas and Their Habitat program and Significant Achievement for the 2012 Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award for the its YES! Program (Youth Engagement through Science).

The Smithsonian's National Zoological Park is a proven conservation leader, said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. In addition to its strong conservation efforts, the National Zoo's commitment and dedication to serving a diverse community is exceptional.

This annual International Conservation Award recognizes the National Zoo, along with its conservation partners at the Memphis Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, and San Diego Zoo Global, for exceptional efforts toward Giant Panda regional habitat preservation, species restoration and support of biodiversity in the wild.

The Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award recognizes AZA member institutions with significant achievement in work force and audience diversity. This award was renamed in memory of Angela Peterson who inspired many in the zoo and aquarium profession with her dedication to AZA's efforts in conservation, education and diversity.

It is essential that we encourage and support diversity in our animal care, science and education staff at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park. We hope that our participation in this program strengthens our relationship to the community and inspires all involved to have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for conservation science.

The YES! Program (Youth Engagement through Science) is one of the most exciting and forward thinking programs in the Washington, D.C. area that is designed to give under-represented minority high school students the chance of a lifetime to gain hands-on experience in multiple areas within the sciences, including genetics, chemistry, biology, zoology and more. Providing students exposure to these science careers at such a young age not only gives them insight and knowledge of these career paths, but also empowers them to make better and informed decisions on future career choices while in college. The YES! Program was initially pioneered by the National Museum of Natural History in the summer of 2010. In 2011, the National Zoo, in the spirit of collaboration and its commitment to community outreach, initiated the YES! Program in Washington, D.C. This partnership has continued to grow within the last two years and will become a permanent program for the Zoo's outreach initiatives.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo's work with giant pandas started 40 years ago, and in the decades since we have helped reverse the plight of the species, Kelly said. Our scientists and animal care experts have worked hand in hand with Chinese colleagues to engineer a new understanding of giant pandas in the wild and in zoos and breeding centers. I believe our greatest gift has been in training hundreds of young Chinese professionals who are now dedicated to ensuring a bright future for this charismatic species and its habitat.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo has been a leader in studying giant pandas for almost 40 years. In 2011, the Zoo renewed its commitment to studying and conserving this iconic species when it signed a five-year Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement with its Chinese partners. The National Zoo will continue to focus on creating new habitat for pandas through exploring corridor systems in China. Additionally, it will emphasize continued growth of the captive giant panda population as the Chinese work toward large-scale reintroductions of animals back to nature. The National Zoo will provide further support through providing advice as the Chinese develop the first ever Wildlife Disease Control Center in China.

National Zoo scientists also have been leaders in improving information on the life history characteristics of the giant panda—in behavior, veterinary health, population biology and reproductive physiology. Lessons learned were instrumental in producing two giant panda cubs by artificial insemination, Tai Shan in 2005 and the new cub born last Sunday evening, Sept. 16.

The AZA Honors and Awards program recognizes exceptional accomplishments in the zoo and aquarium profession. Each category is reviewed by a panel of expert peers, and winners are announced annually every September.

The National Zoological Park is a part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest museum and research complex. The words 'National Zoo' represent a large, complex, and diverse organization with a multifaceted mission: demonstrate leadership in animal care, science, education and sustainability. The Zoo is a 163-acre zoological park set amid Rock Creek Park in the heart of Washington, D.C. as well as the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, a 3,200-acre rural campus in Front Royal, Virginia, at the edge of Shenandoah National Park.

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. To learn more visit