Every Day is World Wildlife Day

By Phoebe Li

World Wildlife Day raises international awareness for the plight of wild animals and plants. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which established the observance, is emphasizing our responsibility to the natural world with this year’s theme, “The future of wildlife is in our hands,” and a focus on elephants. As a show of support, the Los Angeles Zoo will highlight its contributions to conservation around the world, starting with the Asian elephant.


Asian Elephant
Elephas maximus indicus

“The future of elephants is in our hands,” proclaims the website for World Wildlife Day 2016, and we agree. Classified Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1986, Asian elephants continue to experience severe habitat loss due to expanding human populations and demand for their ivory. To preserve the elephant population in Cambodia, the L.A. Zoo works with the Cambodia Elephant Conservation Group (CECG), funding surveys that will help CECG monitor and track elephant populations and educate villagers on safely deterring the hungry mammals from destroying farm crops. By educating local communities, CECG hopes to reduce habitat destruction and human-elephant conflict to prevent further population decline of the Asian elephant—there are currently between 250 and 600 wild elephants in Cambodia.

Elephant Female Pair, L.A. Zoo (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Elephant Female Pair (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Tomistoma schlegelii

The tomistoma (also known as the false gharial) is a freshwater crocodilian that is sometimes mistaken for a small alligator. The current population is listed as vulnerable , with fewer than 2,500 mature adults in the wild. To bring population numbers up and raise awareness for these unique creatures, the L.A. Zoo is co-funding a project, along with the Virginia Zoo, to study the behaviors of tomistomas in Sarawak, Malaysia. With the Zoo’s support, biologist Agata Staniewicz will record the mating calls, breeding ethology, and social hierarchy of tomistomas using hydrophones for acoustic recording. This non-invasive approach is the first of its kind in the study of crocodilians, and it’s conceivably the best way to capture information on the shy, secretive tomistoma.

Tomistoma Female (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Tomistoma Female (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Australia/ Oceania

Fiji Iguana
Brachylophus vitiensis
The critically endangered Fiji iguana is endemic to a few mostly uninhabited islands in the South Pacific. Eye-catching with its vibrant emerald and cream colors, the iguana’s population has been in decline due to deforestation and the introduction of invasive species such as goats. The L.A. Zoo is helping to fund a captive-breeding program initiated in Fiji by San Diego Zoo Global. The goal of this program is to rebuild the Fiji iguana population and ultimately release captive-bred individuals to the Fijian island of Monuriki in the coming years.

Fiji Island banded iguana (Photo by George Stoneman)

Fiji Island banded iguana (Photo by George Stoneman)

Central America

Harpy Eagle
Harpia harpyja

Throughout their range (Mexico to Argentina), harpy eagle populations are quickly declining due mostly to deforestation. In addition, hunters and farmers intending to protect their livestock often shoot to destroy these misunderstood raptors, which actually hold little threat to domestic animals since their diet consists mainly of sloths and various species of monkey. To help these amazing creatures, the L.A. Zoo provides funding to the Harpy Eagle Conservation project, organized by the Peregrine Fund (TPF). TPF’s conservation education program focuses on restoring harpy eagle populations in Darién, Panama, and teaching its residents to live sustainably alongside the species.

Harpy eagle squawking (Photo by Charlie Morey)

Harpy eagle squawking (Photo by Charlie Morey)


Okapia johnstoni

The endangered okapi is native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where its numbers have been decreasing due to poaching and habitat destruction. The L.A. Zoo not only houses okapi, but also supports the Okapi Conservation Project. Spearheaded by the White Oak Conservation Center in Florida (WOCC) in an effort to protect the DRC’s Okapi Wildlife Reserve, the WOCC also works to educate local DRC communities about eco-friendly practices and promotes the okapi as an “ambassador” species, which represents the biodiversity of its native land and whose conservation also ensures the survival of other species.

Okapi, Waterfall, L.A. Zoo (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Okapi by a waterfall at the L.A. Zoo (Photo by Jamie Pham)