Conservation Projects

Local Conservation

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife (ODWC) Partnership

The Zoo provides financial support and people power for ODWC projects. Zoo staff assist with annual surveys to monitor winter bird, bat, and lesser prairie chicken populations in Oklahoma. This partnership allows ODWC staff to survey larger areas than they could monitor without the help of Zoo staff. It also gives Zoo staff a great opportunity to have hands-on experience with the projects and to enjoy seeing native wildlife in many parts of the state. The Zoo is also proud to provide office space for some of the ODWC staff.



 Texas Horned Lizard Project

The Zoo partners with Tinker Air Force Base and the University of Oklahoma to study Texas horned lizards. The Zoo provides people power for this partnership. Zoo Staff use radio telemetry to locate the lizards and collect data for several studies, including translocation evaluation, habitat usage, and the effects of prairie restoration.




The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma 

The Zoo Partners with The Nature Conservancy to create a future for Oklahoma where nature and people thrive together.



Global Conservation

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Rwanda


The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) is dedicated to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa. DFGFI proudly carries on the pioneering work Dian Fossey initiated 50 years ago to study and protect mountain gorillas. The mountain gorilla population has doubled thanks to daily patrols performed by DFGFI staff. This is the only population of wild gorillas that is increasing. DFGFI also provides assistance to local communities through education, health, training and development initiatives.

The Zoo provides financial support to DFGFI. This money has been used to support operation of the Karisoke Research Center which is the base for DFGFI’s field activities.


Turtle Survival Alliance

The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) has one powerful goal: zero turtle extinctions. To achieve this goal, TSA works in turtle hotspots in Belize, Columbia, Madagascar, India, China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Efforts are specific to the area, the local issues, and the turtle species. For example, in Madagascar TSA spearheads enforcement of laws protecting turtles from poaching for food and export to pet markets. In Myanmar, TSA has reproduced two nearly extinct species, the Burmese star tortoise and Burmese roofed turtle, in breeding centers and has reintroduced captive bred individuals to the wild. Both species are now making strong comebacks. TSA also responds when law enforcement officials confiscate turtles from smugglers. The confiscated animals are usually weak and ill, because they have been deprived of food and water and packed together with many other turtles, allowing disease and parasites to spread. TSA works with its many partners to place these turtles in captive turtle facilities that can provide veterinary care and appropriate housing and food. The turtles are nursed back to health and then returned to the wild if suitable protected habitat is available or placed in breeding centers to form captive populations which are bred and maintained as a hedge against extinction. In 2015, TSA assisted in the rehabilitation of 569 radiated tortoises and 3800 Palawan forest turtles that were confiscated. Both species are critically endangered and their populations cannot withstand such huge losses. TSA has also established the Turtle Survival Center, a large captive breeding center in South Carolina. Turtles lend themselves well to being kept and reproduced in a relatively small amount of space. The Turtle Survival Center is home to 600 turtles representing 32 of the world’s most critically endangered species. The center manages healthy, self-sustaining captive populations that currently have little chance of survival in the wild.

Three species of critically endangered Vietnamese box turtles bred and maintained at TSA’s Turtle Survival Center.

The Zoo is helping TSA achieve its goal of zero turtle extinctions by providing financial support. This money has been used to support the Turtle Survival Center and to help fund the rescue and rehabilitation of confiscated turtles. TSA and the Zoo also have a special connection through, Executive Director, Dr. Dwight Lawson. Dwight is a founding member of TSA and serves on its board.


Foundation for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Guatemala 

The Zoo partners with the Foundation for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Guatemala (FUNDESGUA), an organization which uses science based-strategies embedded in local culture to guide everyday actions, as the ingredients to our successful conservation results. Their target species are the Guatemalan beaded lizard and the Campbell’s alligator lizard, animals with extremely limited natural habitats. In areas like Guatemala, where extreme poverty is common and access to amenities like electricity is rare, it is common to chop down old growth trees for wood used to cook or heat homes. To combat this and to protect the remaining old-growth forests, FUNDESGUA supplied saplings for community-managed forests with fast-growing, native Eucalyptus and Pine Oak tree species for easy access to firewood. The successful program has expanded to six forests, each with about 10,000 trees.

Now Accepting Applications for 2021

Conservation Action Now Grant

Our planet is changing at a perplexing rate. Wild animal populations and healthy habitats are declining rapidly. The Oklahoma City Zoo is actively supporting and helping to expand the conservation of these imperiled species, habitats and their surrounding communities. One small, but wide-ranging, way to fulfill this mission is through the Zoo’s annual Conservation Action Now (CAN) small grant program.

The Zoo awards these competitive small grants each December in amounts up to $2,500 each. The selected projects span the globe and are based on their proposed ability to address the following conservation ideals:

  • Conservation Education – building an awareness of a conservation program that can effect change.  

  • Scientific Research – research projects that have a direct impact on conservation of an imperiled species or habitat in its native location.

  • Species Preservation – direct care or work with an imperiled species which results in an improved capability to preserve that species in its native habitat.

Congratulations and thank you CAN grant awardees! Your passion for, research of and dedication to these endangered species will have a lasting effect on the earth’s wildlife and wild places. The Zoo is proud to partner with you in these endeavors. Together, we CAN make a difference! 




2019 Small Grant Awardees

Gregg Tully, Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA)

Project Title: “Action for Chimpanzees (AFC): Genetic Sequencing to Fight Wildlife Trafficking”

Award Amount: $2,500

Summary:  Chimpanzee sanctuaries in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia accepted far more confiscated chimpanzees last year than ever before, and trafficking of critically endangered western chimpanzees is rising. Thousands of chimpanzees are taken from the wild each year to fill the demand for pets, tourist attractions, and bushmeat. PASA’s Action for Chimpanzees (AFC) program aims to stop the hunting and confiscation of critically endangered western chimpanzees as well as other primates.  PASA is launching a new component of AFC using the latest genome mapping technology to provide data about the illegal chimpanzee trade.  PASA member organizations will collect hair samples from chimpanzees residing at their sanctuaries that were confiscated from traffickers throughout West Africa for DNA sequencing.  Researchers will use the genome data to precisely determine its location of origin, which is rarely possible with victims of the primate trade. Knowing the origin of each chimpanzee in PASA member wildlife centers will make it possible to return confiscated animals to their country of origin and reintroduce qualified candidates to the wild.  Furthermore, this information will be essential for the law enforcement training initiative of our AFC program. Geographic locations of origin of confiscated animals will provide insights about hotspots for chimpanzee poaching, commonly used trafficking routes, and governments that are failing to adequately enforce laws. This will enable projects that disrupt trafficking (including conservation. education, community development, and law enforcement) to focus on the most critical areas. This initiative will save wild chimpanzees at risk of trafficking before they are in danger.

Elizabeth Freeman, George Mason University

Project Title: “An integrative approach to understanding musth in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus): conservation from fence to field”

Award Amount: $2,240

Summary:  Asian elephants are endangered and increasingly threatened by human–elephant conflict (HEC). HEC is often manifested through crop-raiding, with the most frequent crop-raiders being adult male elephants in musth, a unique male reproductive period in elephants. We still do not understand key factors that drive variations in musth behavior which limits our ability to implement conservation plans that better target males in musth, including crop deterrents and effective land management strategies. Elephants will be studied at three national parks in Sri Lanka and at ten different facilities in the US, including the Oklahoma City Zoo.  The goal of this project is to gather behavioral, physiological, and acoustic data about male Asian elephants in musth, with recognition of the influence of intrinsic (age, condition) and extrinsic (social, environmental) factors. Our first objective is to use live observations to generate information about the behavioral correlates of Asian elephant musth, with special attention given to intra- and intersexual interactions, agonistic and affiliative behaviors, foraging, and locomotion. Second, we seek to quantify sexual and metabolic hormone variation among male Asian elephants in and out of musth, and then correlate these values with behaviors and environmental factors. Lastly, we hope to identify unique acoustic components to the musth signal to contribute to efforts to implement acoustic deterrents and early warning systems. These three data streams (behavioral, hormonal, and acoustic) will be integrated with each other to produce a more wholistic and probably more accurate understanding of how musth varies based on the spectrum of internal and external factors that Asian elephants face. We also engage with local stakeholders in Sri Lanka as we collect data, including wildlife officials, park rangers, university students, and farmers. With this new knowledge in hand, we can make meaningful recommendations to wildlife managers and local communities to reduce HEC.  

Vera Pfannerstill, University of Goettingen

Project Title: “Increasing white rhino translocation success using natural communication methods”

Award Amount: $2,500

Summary: Rhinos are threatened by an ongoing poaching crisis. As a consequence, three of the five remaining rhino species are critically endangered and could be exterminated within our lifetime. To protect them from poaching, rhinos are being translocated from areas of high poaching rates into areas where their protection can be secured. However, translocations sometimes lead to extended movement of released animals out of protected areas into regions where they face high mortality risks. We will examine which individual and transport-related factors, such as age, transport duration and release cohort size, affect movement after translocation and investigate whether rhino movement can be influenced through natural rhino communication signals. We will first analyze the existing database of translocated rhinos in Botswana to identify the factors influencing movement and settlement after release. Secondly, we will record calls of white rhinos to examine the vocal repertoire and to increase the understanding of wild rhino vocal communication. Thirdly, we will perform playback experiments using the recorded calls with wild white rhinos in Botswana. Behavioral responses to playbacks will be analyzed to evaluate the suitability of playbacks as an animal-friendly management tool in translocation projects. The results of the study will contribute to the development of an improved rhino translocation protocol that can be distributed worldwide.

Elizabeth Ross, Kasiisi Project

Project Title: “A study of bee health, forage patterns and honey yields, in elephant deterrent beehive fences”

Award Amount: $2,400

Summary: Elephants in Kibale National Park, Uganda are increasingly coming into conflict with people.  Beehives strung on wires to form “fences” between the forest and neighboring farms deter crop-raiding elephants who, disliking bees, do not cross them, but they have to be large active colonies. In addition, harvested honey generates income for farmers, encouraging participation in beehive fence programs, and also results in better upkeep of other effective elephant deterrents, particularly trenches. Good honey yields are critical for maintaining interest in beehive fence projects, however pilot data from “fences” around Kibale Forest show high levels of absconding bee colonies, small, low activity colonies and unpredictable honey harvests. Beehive fences, strung across streams and swamps between trenches, can be a good solution and so finding ways to increase dependable honey yields is crucial. However, this is not easy since despite their critical importance for forest ecosystems and agricultural productivity very little is known about African honeybees. Important data on availability of forage plants, factors impacting bee health and honey yields and how farmers can maintain stable, productive hives is almost absent. In this project, as an adjunct to a larger, already funded initiative setting a baseline for bee health in the KNP ecosystem, we will monitor bee colonies in 2 “fences” along forest and swamp boundaries. We will track health by a) measuring a colony’s ability to control internal hive temperature and humidity b) scoring brood health c) estimating colony size d) quantifying honey yields and e) determining primary forage plants. Results will be used to improve beekeeping processes making the “fences” more effective.

Rajan Paudel, Hokkaido University

Project Title: “Breaching the Barrier: Initiating Sloth Bear Conservation Project in the Foothills of Nepal Himalayas”

Award Amount: $360

Summary: This study will look at the genetic diversity of Sloth bear population and how they are adapting to increasing disturbance from humans and changes in availability of food and water resources. The study will take place in southern foot-hills of Nepal, where the Sloth bears are under increasing pressure due to habitat loss, conflicts with local communities and poaching.  Using DNA analysis and habitat surveys we will determine the genetic structure and variation in Sloth bear population and determine how human activity and availability of fruits, insects and water resources is altering their habitat utilization. We will also conduct diet analysis to understand what they are eating and see if they are able to adapt with changes in availability of the food resources. We will work together with park rangers and local communities to understand the trends, reasons and mitigation measures for human-sloth conflicts.  This information can be used to better monitor existing sloth bear population, manage its habitat and secure local peoples support to conservation efforts. This will help in conservation planning and evidence-based decision making to ensure long-term survival Sloth bear conservation in Nepal.


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