The Brevard Zoo has taken a leadership role in educating the public on the importance of conservation and preserving the world’s natural habitats.
By Jack Roth
While technology is wonderful in many ways, the zoo takes advantage of getting kids off their electronic devices and engaged with nature.
Zoos, like so many other businesses and institutions in modern society, have evolved drastically in recent years. From simple menageries in which living animals were exhibited in captivity to centers of conservation and caring, zoos have invested in being stewards for conservation, education and the preservation of our natural environments and the flora and fauna that live in them.
The Brevard Zoo, which opened its gates to the public in March 1994, is no exception, as it has applied a common sense approach to conserving natural resources whenever possible, as well as sharing valuable knowledge in order to educate the general public on how every individual can make a difference when it comes to conservation and environmental preservation. Its mission is simple: Wildlife conservation through education and participation.
To support that mission, the zoo focuses on caring responsibly, professionally and passionately for its animals; connecting visitors to the natural world through a relevant, unique and enjoyable zoo experience; educating diverse audiences through authentic learning activities through its ongoing partnership with Brevard County Public Schools and other educational providers; and inspiring and engaging the community in conservation action through participation. Other goals include achieving conservation results by working directly with Florida species, supporting international programs and developing training programs and workshops.
“We would like to see Brevard be the most sustainable county in Florida,” said Keith Winsten, the zoo’s executive director. “We have a strong relationship with this community, and we’ve positioned ourselves to represent quality of life in this region. We’re a central gathering place where people of all ages can come and appreciate the outdoors, wildlife and the importance of sustainability.”
A Community Asset
The Brevard Zoo earns 90 percent of its funds through admission-related income and welcomes more than 400,000 guests annually. Its annual economic impact exceeds
$59.5 million. With the help of the community, it has continually been recognized as a leading institution in Top 10 Zoo lists and awards from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
The zoo remains active in working with other agencies to ensure local wildlife populations stay healthy despite more and more development. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently asked the zoo to help relocate scrub jays, the only species of bird unique to Florida. Their primary threats come from habitat destruction, fragmentation and degradation from development and agriculture. Unfortunately, the scrub jay population has declined 90 percent in the past century as a result of these threats.
“We developed a technique that enables us to successfully relocate the scrub jays without harming them,” said Winsten. “Every zoo is different, but we have a strong relationship with the local community, and we want to continue to be that trusted partner in helping to preserve our ecosystems.” ▸
Brevard Zoo has continually been recognized as a leading institution in Top 10 Zoo lists and awards from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Education and Participation
When you first enter the Brevard Zoo, you are given a token representing 25 cents as part of its Quarters for Conservation Program. You use this quarter at the Conservation Kiosk, where you are asked to “vote” for your favorite project or organization from a list of three that are rotated every three months. You literally start your visit with a conservation action that makes you self-reflect and gain a strong sense of what it means to be a steward for sustainability.
“People love it, and they learn about current conservation efforts occurring around the world,” explained Winsten. “We share strong messaging that is enhanced through education and participation. Visitors get a taste of that as soon as they walk through our gates.”
Winsten bemoans the fact there exists a generation of kids who experience no unstructured time outdoors. And while technology is wonderful in many ways, the zoo takes advantage of getting kids off their electronic devices and engaged with nature. A fun, family-friendly experience, the zoo also shows visitors the science behind nature and wildlife. Whether through an animatronic dinosaur or a live kangaroo, the entire experience is designed to engage visitors in the discovery and learning processes.
“We share strong messaging that is enhanced through education and participation. Visitors get a taste of that as soon as they walk through our gates.”
– Keith Winsten
The Power of Partnerships
What separates the Brevard Zoo from many others is its conservation programs and the myriad of partnerships it has fostered to increase the reach and effectiveness of these endeavors.
The beaches of Brevard are among the world’s most important nesting areas for sea turtles and the largest in the United States. As a result, a significant number of animals are found with injuries and illnesses each year. In response to the need for a local rehabilitation facility, the Brevard Zoo partnered with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society and opened a 2,400-sq.-ft. Sea Turtle Healing Center in 2014. The facility includes two separate holding facilities with a total of 12 tanks ranging in size from six to 20 feet. In addition to providing much-needed rest, the turtles are given a combination of medication, surgeries and nutritious food by experienced staff and dedicated volunteers. Once nursed back to health, the turtles are returned to the ocean.
Blue Life is a cooperative partnership among concerned residents, non-profit organizations, local governments, businesses and educational institutions determined to reduce the pollutant load in the Indian River Lagoon, St. Johns River and the tributaries that flow to them. The zoo also partners with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which empowers consumers and businesses to make choices for healthy oceans. Keep Brevard Beautiful’s Litter Quitter program, which encourages the reduction of common sources of litter such as single-use plastics, plastic bags and Styrofoam, represents another of the zoo’s successful partnerships.
Practicing what it preaches, the Brevard Zoo takes extensive measures to ensure its business practices are as sustainable as possible. A select group of employees, known as the Green Team, have taken on the responsibility of meeting monthly to ensure the zoo continues to be a sustainable organization. This includes instituting a recycling program, enhancing sustainability signage within the park and assisting with special events to minimize waste.
“Thousands of people participate in these programs and partnerships, which I believe is what defines us,” said Winsten. “Our goal is to continue to be proactive and serve as a rallying point for good things in the community. We want to be relevant and make a difference when it comes to sustainability and conservation.” ◆
In 2014 Brevard Zoo partnered with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society and opened a 2,400-sq.-ft. Sea Turtle Healing Center.