CT's Beardsley Zoo Wins AZA Top Honors

Bridgeport, Conn. — Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo was awarded Top Honors in Education from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) at their annual national conference, held this month in Columbus, Oh. The annual award  was given to the Zoo’s RIZE program, recognizing outstanding achievement and the ability to promote conservation knowledge. 

The RIZE program is Research, Internships, and Zoo Education, developed with Associate Biology Professor Ashley Byun, Ph.D.,  and Fairfield University Vertebrate Zoology Lab students in conducting behavioral observation studies at the Zoo. Each spring semester since 2013 (with a one-year interruption due to the pandemic),  Vertebrate Biology Lab students have gathered at the Zoo each Tuesday to conduct behavioral observation studies on a variety of species. Additional longer-term studies are also conducted. 

This year, lab students observed the white naped crane pair’s courtship and mating rituals; a new female red wolf‘s introduction to the Zoo’s male; big cat vocalizations as indicators of estrus, part of a larger project focused on reconstructing the ancestral vocalizations of big cats; and identifying causes of trout aggression in fingerlings prior to their release in wild waterways. An ongoing study of the Zoo’s spider monkey troop includes introducing an iPad as cognitive enrichment, a first for New World monkeys. 

“The RIZE program’s  research projects are selected by Zoo staff, based on questions we have about the animals in our care,” said Animal Curator Rob Tomas. “With resources such as time and money often limited, RIZE students carry out projects that are important but have yet to be explored. Their observations have resulted in a better understanding of these unique species.”

“Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is truly honored to receive this significant recognition,” said Zoo Director Gregg Dancho. “This award spotlights both research and education as two of the four pillars of our mission, conservation, education, research and guest experience.“

Education Curator Jim Knox emphasizes that the RIZE program offers insights into animal behavior that can create a better environment for saving endangered species.  “Every species has its own complex life and social structure,” Knox explained. “The RIZE program and Dr. Byun give us the ability to understand more, so we can do more to preserve the delicate balance that exists in nature.” 

“The quality of research that our students do in such a short period of time is truly impressive. Not only has their work helped the zoo with their endangered wildlife breeding programs, it’s helped to inform aspects of animal enrichment and even animal care,” said Fairfield University’s Associate Biology Professor, Ashley Byun. “Even though we’ve been running this program for almost 10 years, it never gets old - the animals always continue to surprise and amaze us.”

Prior studies helped to ease conflict in the prairie dog colony with the discovery that the colony had fractured into two competing coteries. In another study, when Zoo staff noticed that the female anteater exhibited anxiety when exposed to sounds from lawn maintenance equipment, a RIZE research student found similarities in the acoustics to that of a baby anteater, a sound female anteaters would naturally be attuned to. 

The Maritime Aquarium also won an AZA Education Award at the conference for its Maritime Summer Academy, a summer school program developed in partnership with Norwalk Public Schools, which leverages the motivating power of live animals and the Aquarium’s unique resources to provide highly engaging and authentic learning opportunities. 

About Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo

Get Your Ticket to Adventure! Connecticut’s only zoo, celebrating its 101st year, features 350 animals representing primarily North and South American and Northern Asian species. Guests won’t want to miss our Amur tiger and leopards, maned wolves, Mexican gray wolves, and red wolves.  Other highlights include our new Andean Bear Habitat, Spider Monkey Habitat, the prairie dog exhibit, and the Pampas Plain with giant anteaters and Chacoan peccaries. Guests can grab a bite from the Peacock Café and eat in the Picnic Grove.  As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and participant in its Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs, the non-profit Zoo is committed to the preservation of endangered animals and wild habitats. Tickets must be purchased on the Zoo’s website at beardsleyzoo.org

Submitted by Fairfield, CT

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