Volunteers at Brookfield Zoo

Mary Ann MacLean Conservation Leadership Center

The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. Conservation Leaders are people who act on behalf of wildlife and nature and influence others to do so. Conservation Leaders are aware of choices that affect conservation issues and understand the impact of these choices. Conservation leadership has been at the heart of the Society since it was founded in 1921. The fundamental elements of our conservation standards are:

We have a strong tradition of research and action to protect, conserve, and manage threatened and endangered species.

  • Small Population Biology - Research and Computer Modeling — The Chicago Zoological Society is extensively involved in management of small populations, through our work with SSP within the Brookfield Zoo and other AZA institutions, and through our support and participation at several IUCN components. Dr. Bob Lacy is a world-renown researcher who leads numerous international conservation initiatives, including the chairmanship of the CBSG (Conservation Breeding Specialists’ Group of IUCN). His work benefits zoo animals, wild animals, and wild habitats. Current efforts include the Amphibian Ark, a major initiative to save hundreds of amphibian species; a collaborative research program to test the strategies zoos use in breeding animals; and developing novel approaches to modeling biocomplexity in endangered species management, which involves a variety of experts from biologists to economists to social scientists working together to solve real-life conservation challenges.
  • Sarasota Dolphin Research Program — Dr. Randy Wells leads the world’s longest running study of a wild dolphin population. For the past 39 years, Dr. Wells and his team have studied the dolphins of Sarasota Bay, Florida to help scientists throughout the world learn about dolphin biology, the environmental impacts on their health, and their social structure. In addition to providing essential baseline data for management and health assessments of dolphins in the wild and in zoological institutions, this program has contributed to management actions that help mitigate the negative influences humans can have on marine ecosystems.
  • Conservation Psychology Research — CZS helped to launch this new field of study to address current gaps in social science research and practice related to conservation outcomes. Current frameworks for thinking about environmental issues are often grounded in the natural sciences. Yet, because humans are the source of the problems as well as the hope for solutions, the role of the social sciences has grown in importance. The rapidly emerging Conservation Psychology network encourages social scientists and practitioners to work together to create conservation programs that inspire people to value the natural world and to encourage people to act in more sustainable ways.

We place a high priority on conservation at home through direct action and policy initiatives.

  • Protecting Regional Natural Resources — We recently launched the Zoo and Aquarium Partnership for the Great Lakes, a collaboration of 34 zoos and aquariums to promote conservation of these precious natural resources. Our role is to catalyze this powerful partnership in areas of Science, Policy, Awareness, Communications, and Education.
  • Conservation Starts with Families and Schools — Each year, we serve over 220,000 students and hundreds of families in our school and family programs. We offer 15 classroom curriculum units, serving students from early childhood to high school. These include pre- and post-visit activities at the school in addition to an instructor-led program during a zoo visit. We also train hundreds of Chicago Public School teachers, providing a variety of experiences geared towards improving teachers’ competency and confidence in teaching science.
  • Community Outreach — Our Youth Conservation & Science Leadership Program offers a sequence of scientific discovery for toddlers to teenagers. To date, these programs have provided in-depth experiences for more than 5,000 individuals. The program consists of five sequential steps designed around individual interests and strengths combined with rewarding opportunities for discovery, starting with the family-based Zoo Adventure Passport program, the after-school Kids’ Club, the high school Youth Conservation & Science Corps, and culminating with paid positions and internships and the Women’s Board of the Chicago Zoological Society College Scholarship.
  • Brookfield Zoo Inspires Conservation — Zoo visitors learn about animals through interactive exhibits, lectures, and Zoo Chats that provide meaningful encounters with volunteers and staff. This includes docents who have graduated from a 12-week training course, Roving Naturalists who offer up-close experiences with small creatures, and regularly scheduled Zoo Chats with keepers. In addition, the staff and volunteers of the innovative Hamill Family Play Zoo offer younger children the opportunity to discover nature through hands-on experiences with plants and animals.
  • Regional Conservation Action — Several Chicago Zoological Society staff play key roles in regional conservation efforts, including Chicago Wilderness, an alliance of more than 190 public and private organizations working together to protect, restore, study, and manage these natural ecosystems, which includes more than 225,000 acres of protected natural areas of the Chicago region.
We have a strong history of supporting and training people at Brookfield Zoo and throughout the world who have become conservation leaders in their home regions.
  • Young Conservation Professionals — We also provide in-depth training experiences for post-doctoral researchers in all of our conservation research programs. Additionally, our Sarasota Dolphin Research Program offers hands-on learning experiences for college and graduate students.
  • Professional Development — The Chicago Zoological Society’s professional development track record is readily apparent when reviewing a list of conservation leaders at zoos and aquariums throughout the country—our former employees lead the conservation work at Monterey Bay Aquarium, Phoenix Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, Toledo Zoo, and many other institutions. We provide a variety of learning experiences for staff through our own Zoo University, extensive institutional collaborations, and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Professional Training Program.
  • Endangered Species Fund — CZS manages the Chicago Board of Trade Endangered Species Fund, a competitive grant program that funds proposal on a specific threatened (or nearly threatened) species or a specific habitat that is of high value or substantially threatened around the world, with a special emphasis in the tropics. Priority is given to projects that are clearly of critical need for the species or habitat and that are likely to provide positive and immediate results. These grants welcome a broad inclusion of education and communications projects, with a special emphasis on local capacity-building aspects. Favored projects should have been specifically identified in published or nearly published Action Plans and endorsed by the IUCN-SSC Specialist Group Chair. The grants are awarded twice a year.
  • International Conservation Capacity — The Chicago Zoological Society is consolidating a variety of training and capacity-building efforts into a cohesive program. For the next 10 years, we plan to lead a network of Latin American education and conservation institutions to expand the scientific capacity for conservation in the region. Our goal is to increase by 10-fold the number of conservation professionals employed within training programs at local institutions. These professionals will serve as “multipliers” by training others and actively turning science into policy and action on the ground.