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Virtual WAZA conference: staff perspectives
By:
Katja Laingui
Katja is the Education Operations Manager at the Aquarium Foundation. She gives support to the education team and the Foundation staff as a whole, with her attention to detail and project management skills. She also has a degree in sustainable development and one of her interests involves how to make people more interested in nature and the ecosystem services that we depend on. She is the author of the regular 'K's Kreature Feature' blog.

In the past week, some of our staff had the privilege of joining the first virtual WAZA conference. WAZA stands for World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Established in 1935, WAZA supports zoos, aquariums and other similar organisations in fulfilling their missions of animal welfare and care, environmental education and conservation. With almost 400 member organisations, WAZA is a conduit for collaboration and assists in the setting of benchmarks relating to animal welfare and organisational sustainability.  

Due to Covid-19, the annual WAZA conference was offered online this year, 12-15 October. One of the positive impacts of Covid-19 has been that much more has become accessible to more people through technology. Presentations and panel discussions took place over Zoom, and networking, poster presentations and exhibitors were accessible over the conferencing app Whova.  

There were many fascinating presentations, ranging from how zoos and aquariums coped with the Covid-19 situation, plans to become a carbon neutral organisation, and awareness campaigns, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). 

Here are perspectives from some of the staff that attended the virtual conference:  

 

Jacinta Subjee (Executive Foundation Administrator)

Wow! What an awesome experience. Online conferencing has really opened a whole new world, like the opportunity to attend 75th WAZA conference. It was really great to see that all Zoo’s & Aquariums are on a sustainability journey & looking at alternative ways to do better for the environment. If I had to choose, my absolute favorite presentation would be the keynote address on the first day by Sahil Merchant. #WhereAmI? is now my daily check in. 

Wandiswa Jonga (School Group Coordinator)

I found the conference interesting and informative. I enjoyed the Whova App it made is so easier to connect with different people who were also attending the conference. I enjoyed Sahil Merchant’s presentation. It made me not only reflect on my own personal leadership skills, but also reflect on what type of leadership do I have around me. I feel the presentation was a great way to open the conference. 

 

Sahil Merchant, from McKinsey & Company, presented a keynote address on: What Does it Take to Lead Organisations in an Increasingly Complex Environment? He explored the concepts of complicated vs. Complex problems and what kind of leadership is needed to navigate our world today and in the future. You can watch the keynote address here:  

 

 

 

 
Maryke Musson (CEO) 

The WAZA virtual conference offered us a great opportunity to experience and connect with conservation, awareness, research and education efforts and activities in zoos and aquariums globally. I especially enjoyed learning more about the distinct shift towards true sustainability at facilities through reporting on and reducing carbon emissions. It was also inspiring to see how so many facilities had to be innovative to still relate to and inspire their audiences throughout the pandemic. Connecting people to the natural world remains one of the most important objectives of the zoo and aquarium community. A big thank you to WAZA. 

 

 

It was indeed great to see all the efforts made by various organisations to reduce their impact on nature and the goals they have set themselves to become carbon neutral. Todd Stevens from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) emphasised that to create lasting change, the communities who directly benefit and rely on ecosystems must be part of the process. Sanna Hellström from Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki laid out their plans to become carbon neutral by 2030. They have reduced their emissions by almost 40% since they began the process in 2015. Cameron Kerr at Taronga Zoo also highlighted how they have worked on reducing emissions by investing in renewable energy, choosing different building materials and focusing on sustainable design.  

Below a video from Korkeasaari Zoo about their journey towards carbon neutrality:  

 

Another interesting keynote address was delivered by James Gomme, from WBCSD, on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGsand how businesses can make a real impact in their fields of expertise, by using the SDGs as guidelinesCorina Newsome from Aubudon, in Georgia, United States, gave an impactful presentation about the importance of representation in science, zoos and aquariums. Systemic racism and discrimination have resulted in a predominantly white society of scientists, zookeepers and aquarists, a cycle that perpetuates itself since a lack of representation will result in fewer children interested in this field. There is more work that needs to be done to make the zoo and aquarium industry more inclusive and diverse.  

We all really enjoyed attending the WAZA conference, as it brought us and so many inspirational organisations together. We are all working towards a common goal: connecting people with nature, collaborating on conservation programmes, and ensuring a better world for everyone.