San Diego Zoo Safari Park Awarded Top Honors by Association of Zoos and Aquariums for Walkabout Australia

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has been recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) with Top Honors in AZA’s Exhibit Award for 2020, for the Walkabout Australia experience. The award was announced Sept. 16 at the 2020 Virtual AZA Annual Conference, in a presentation recognizing the achievements of more than 20 AZA member facilities in conservation, education, research, habitat design, marketing, diversity, research and volunteer engagement.

 “San Diego Zoo Global is extremely proud of receiving this top design honor from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, for Walkabout Australia,” stated Paul A. Baribault, president/CEO, San Diego Zoo Global. “The experience at the Safari Park does more than connect people with unique wildlife it also represents an ongoing connection between the San Diego community and dedicated conservationists in Australia.”

San Diego Zoo Global has a long history of working with Australian wildlife. The 3.6-acre Walkabout Australia experience opened at the Safari Park in May 2018. Walkabout Australia takes guests on a backcountry road through four types of Australian habitats: grassland, rain forest, wetlands and desert. Key features include a walk-through habitat where guests can see western gray kangaroos, red-necked wallabies, radjah shelducks, freckled ducks and magpie geese. Other featured wildlife include southern cassowaries and Matschie’s tree kangaroos.  In November 2019, in a ceremony that included representatives of the Yugambeh (pronounced you-gum-bear) Language Peoples of the Gold Coast of Australia and the consul general of the Australian Consulate in Los Angeles, the Nelson M. Millsberg Platypus Habitat was added to Walkabout Australia. This habitat features the only two platypuses currently living outside of Australia. Animal ambassadors such as a kookaburra, an echidna, a blue-tongued skink, a rose-breasted cockatoo (also known as a galah) or a sugar glider may also be present for encounters with guests on any given day.

Australia—like California—is experiencing more widespread and longer periods of drought, along with wildfires. Walkabout Australia not only features amazing Australian wildlife—including plants, such as bottlebrush, banksia and eucalyptus—but also explores the vital connection between water and the animals and people who depend on it.

“In these unprecedented times, I am glad we could convene and honor the outstanding achievements of the distinguished leaders in our profession,” said Dan Ashe, AZA’s president and CEO. “Their contributions and mentorship have inspired all within the accredited zoo and aquarium community to advance AZA’s mission of creating a world where all people respect, value and conserve wildlife and wild places.”

Sue Chin, chair of the AZA Honors and Awards Committee, said “Walkabout Australia’s balance between landscape and high-quality theming creates a seamless immersion experience that features nine Species Survival Plan (SSP) species, showcases sustainable practices and makes a relevant visitor connection to the impacts of climate change on California and Australia.” Chin, who is also vice president of planning and design, and chief architect of exhibits, graphics and design at the Wildlife Conservation Society, added “Walkabout Australia hits on all of the elements of a successful habitat, beauty, careful thought about animal welfare and husbandry, relevant conservation messaging and visitor experience.”

“We are honored and proud to receive this award from the AZA,” said Lisa Peterson, director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Australia is an extraordinary place, and we are thrilled to have created an authentic, sensory experience that transports our guests into this incredibly diverse and fragile habitat. Not only does Walkabout Australia allow us to connect people to Australia’s fascinating wildlife, but it also adds another dimension to San Diego Zoo Global’s efforts to save endangered species, such as the Matschie’s tree kangaroo.”

To learn more about AZA’s Honors and Awards, visit aza.org/honors-awards.

As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to over 1 billion people annually, reaching 150 countries via social media, our websites and the San Diego Zoo Kids network, in children’s hospitals in 12 countries. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible with support from our incredible donors committed to saving species from the brink of extinction.

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, animal welfare, education, science and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation 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 saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit aza.org.

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