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

OKC Zoo News Releases


It was announced at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) annual conference in Seattle that Josh Lucas, lead herpetology caretaker at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, was among the winners of the organization’s AZA Heroes contest. In 2019, a national multi-platform media campaign will share the mission and spirit of AZA through the stories of four heroes who go above and beyond in their work for education and conservation.

From a field of 95 entries crowdsourced from AZA-accredited organizations across North America, the top 10 finalists were announced in August and an online vote commenced. From there, the four AZA Heroes were selected. The OKC Zoo was one of only two organizations with multiple finalists in the grassroots video contest with Amy Mathews, lead elephant caretaker at the OKC Zoo, also among the 10 finalists.

“We are so proud of Josh, not just for his selection as an AZA Hero, but for his commitment to conservation and the work he does here and in the field to fulfill that commitment,” said Barry Downer, deputy director, Oklahoma City Zoo. “I’m beyond confident that the Oklahoma City Zoo and its mission will be well-represented in this campaign by such an outstanding individual.”

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 met his wife, Sonia, currently a full-time physical therapy doctoral student, when she was a fellow caretaker. Lucas 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. He turned his backyard and part of his house into a habitat for 16 turtles and tortoises.

Lucas has contributed to “boots on the ground” field conservation efforts in Ecuador (including that nation’s renown Galapagos Islands), Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and, most recently, in Madagascar where 11,000 critically endangered tortoises were discovered in a private residence this April. Almost every room in the house was filled with tortoises without access to food or water. The tortoises were likely collected for the illegal pet trade, possibly for shipment to Asia where the species’ shell makes them highly prized. The Turtle Survivor Alliance (TSA) in partnership with more than 20 institutions accredited by the AZA, including the OKC Zoo, supplied team members, supplies and funds to care for the sick or injured tortoises.

In partnership with the TSA, OKC Zoo and his graduate program at UCO, Lucas will return to Madagascar later this year to begin work on a long-term, three-year, re-settlement project for the tortoises.

In addition to Lucas, other AZA Heroes include: Amanda Hodo from Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Donnie Alverson from San Diego Zoo Global and Rachael Rost from Topeka Zoo.

As a whole, AZA professionals contribute approximately $220 million per year to conservation, engaging in international field work benefitting over 800 species. As researchers, they conduct over 1,000 animal care, health, and welfare projects per year. As educators, they inspire over 190 million annual guests, in addition to leading countless education and volunteer programs in their community.

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

Find your hero at the OKC Zoo! Located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35, the Oklahoma City Zoo is an Adventure Road partner and a member of Oklahoma City’s Adventure District. The Zoo proudly holds accreditations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the American Association of Museums. Guests are welcome daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. with exhibit buildings closing at 4:45 p.m. Stay connected to the world of wild! Find the Zoo on FacebookInstagram, Twitter and visit Our Stories. To learn more, call (405) 424-3344 or visit


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