Boise & Garden City

Zoo Boise director set to be keynote speaker at worldwide zoo group meeting in Dubai

Zoo Boise Director Steve Burns said Monday he’ll keep encouraging zoos to get more involved in saving wild animals around the world when he is the keynote speaker at the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums October meeting in Dubai.

Despite conservation efforts, populations of iconic wildlife species such as the giraffe, rhinoceros, lion and panda continue on a decades-long decline. The population of the world’s wildlife, including fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, fell by more than one-half between 1970 and 2010, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund, a conservationist group based in Switzerland.

“I think that we’ve done such a good job of building this culture where animals are everywhere, that we’ve just tricked ourselves into thinking that they’re common in the wild, but they’re really not,” Burns said.

In 2006, under Burns’ direction, Zoo Boise became the first zoo in the United States to charge a fee for wildlife conservation. Every time a person enters the zoo, a 50-cent fee is added to the cost of admission. Year memberships for the zoo’s fund-raising arm include a charge of $5 for conservation efforts. Over the years, those fees have added up to more than $1 million, Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Amy Stahl said. The money is used for things like habitat restoration projects, scientific research and and conservation education.

About 20 other zoos in the country have followed suit, Burns said, including zoos in Oregon, Seattle, Atlanta and Colorado. Together, those fees have added up to about $10 million, Burns said.

Burns has served on the board of directors for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the United States since 2010. The worldwide organization, which is separate from the American group, has 229 accredited member institutions around the world. About 200 of those are located in the United States. Zoo Boise and the Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls are the only two in Idaho.

In September, the association’s board made Burns its chair-elect. He’ll begin serving that one-year term this fall.

Burns said being named the keynote speaker at the Dubai meeting is a “huge honor.”

“It speaks well for how Zoo Boise is regarded in the zoo community across the country,” he said.

The Boise City Council is expected to vote Tuesday night to give Burns permission to make the Dubai trip. The zoo association will pay for his trip.

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