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At the OKC Zoo, Go Wild!

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Candice Rennels | (405) 425-0298 |
Chase Harvick | (405) 425-0608 |

OKC Zoo News Releases


With the world losing wildlife 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the natural extinction rate, we need animal conservation heroes more than ever. A new public service announcement unveiled today by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) features four professionals including Josh Lucas, lead herpetology caretaker at the Oklahoma City Zoo, who embody what it means to be a champion for wildlife and wild places. The winners of the AZA Find Our Wildlife Heroes contest, who star in the ad, share the unique paths they’ve pursued to help save endangered species. To view the full PSA and vignette featuring Lucas, click here.

Lucas grew his childhood love of reptiles into a lifelong passion for caring for animals. Originally from Austin, Texas, Lucas has been at the OKC Zoo for six years and cites his childhood love of reptiles as a factor that led to his passion for animal conservation. He graduated with a zoology degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master’s in conservation biology from the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). He turned his backyard and part of his house into a habitat for 16 turtles and tortoises. He recently returned from two months in Madagascar, where he is working to find suitable re-introduction sites for radiated tortoises rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Learn more about this conservation project on the Zoo’s blog.

“As a conservation organization, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is first and foremost committed to protecting wildlife and wild places,” said Greg Heanue, Chief Marketing Officer of OKC Zoo. “I can think of no better ambassador to convey that message than Josh Lucas. His conservation work in the field and dedication to educating Zoo guests about these critical issues is, indeed, heroic.”

Last Fall, AZA invited members of its 233-accredited facilities to submit personal stories of their passion for animal care and conservation. Over 100 entries were received, highlighting the diverse work of professionals at AZA-accredited facilities and the love they have for their jobs. AZA narrowed the field down to 10 finalists, including two finalists from the OKC Zoo: Josh Lucas and Amy Mathews, lead elephant caretaker.

After deliberation from a panel of judges, as well as a public voting period, four members from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums were chosen as Our Wildlife Heroes. In addition to Lucas, other heroes represent professionals at AZA facilities who plays a hands-on role in the care and conservation of animals:

Amanda Hodo from Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium – Amanda followed her dream to pursue aquatic biology and serves as a role model to the next generation of scientists through outreach to underserved communities.

Donnie Alverson from San Diego Zoo Global – Donnie, a conservation researcher, is studying, breeding and reintroducing Hawaiian honeycreepers to ensure sustainable populations in the wild.

Rachael Rost from Topeka Zoo – Rachael, an educator, directly connects with hundreds of students per year, engaging them in citizen science and inspiring conservation in the classroom.

“The professional staff at AZA-accredited facilities are doing incredible work each day to educate the next generation of conservationists, provide the best care possible to the animals at their facilities, and working tirelessly in the field to save animals in nature,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “Amanda, Donnie, Josh, and Rachael are representative of those thousands of professionals, and I believe America will enjoy getting to know them.” 

More than 800,000 animals receive highly specialized, professional care at AZA-accredited organizations, which includes ensuring a diverse wildlife population for generations to come. Because of exceptional staff members like these heroes, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are uniquely suited to fight extinction.

AZA heroes at all of AZA’s member facilities are working to end extinction through:

Resources – They contributed $220 million in 2017 to field conservation, engaging in international fieldwork benefitting over 800 species.

Research – They conducted over 1,000 animal care, health, and welfare projects in 2017.

Recovery – They reintroduce extinct species such as the scimitar-horned oryx and the black-footed ferret and rehabilitate animals who cannot survive on their own.

Education – They inspire over 190 million annual guests, in addition to the countless education and volunteer programs in their community.

The Our Wildlife Heroes PSA encourages viewers to also be a hero for wildlife through five simple steps: Advocate, Volunteer, Donate, Share and Visit. Animal lovers can deepen their commitment to wildlife conservation by going to The full PSA and vignettes featuring each of the heroes may be viewed on AZA’s YouTube channel.


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 eight 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


Visit the OKC Zoo and witness conservation in action! Round Up for Conservation is a grassroots effort funded entirely by guests rounding up their purchases to the next dollar amount when visiting the OKC Zoo. In 2018, Round Up had a record-breaking year, raising $127,713 for conservation projects. Since its inception in 2011, the program has generated more than $475,000. The Zoo is a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the American Alliance of Museums, Oklahoma City’s Adventure District and an Adventure Road partner. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Regular admission is $11 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free. Stay up-to-date with the Zoo on FacebookTwitter and Instagram and by visiting Our Stories. To learn more about these and other happenings, call (405) 424-3344 or visit



For media related to this news release, click here.


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