San Diego, California - The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced that the San Diego Zoo Global’s submission on behalf of six AZA-accredited institutions received “Top Honors” in AZA’s 2017 North American Conservation Award for their California Condor Bi-national Recovery and Reintroduction Program. The annual award recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild. For the first time this year, Top Honors winners in the North American Conservation category also received a cash award of $25,000 to support their initiatives thanks to the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation. 

 “This award highlights the crucial work aquariums and zoos are doing to help save threatened and endangered animals within our own backyards,” said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe.  “The team at San Diego Zoo Global is a leader in conserving North American wildlife, protecting the California condor and our natural heritage through the Bi-national Recovery and Reintroduction Program. They are saving animals from extinction.”    

In the early 1980s, scientists counted only 22 California condors left in the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked San Diego Zoo Global and the Los Angeles Zoo to step in to safeguard the species, in an effort to save it from imminent extinction. All remaining wild condors were brought into the two zoos, causing the species to be “extinct in the wild” for the first time in its 10,000-year history.       

Over the next three decades, the program partners, including Oregon Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Oakland Zoo, Phoenix Zoo and Chapultepec Zoo, nongovernmental organizations, and U.S. and Mexican wildlife officials, worked tirelessly to first increase the numbers of condors, release them back into their ancestral habitat, and monitor and manage the population—both in zoos and in their native habitats.

"Today, the California Condor Binational Recovery and Reintroduction Program serves as a model for successful endangered species recovery programs around the world,” said Douglas Myers, CEO of San Diego Zoo Global. “However, when we started the program in the mid-1980s, it was with a leap of faith; a leadership effort that could not have been successful without the collaboration of many conservation partners and the expertise of scientists, both in accredited zoos and in the field; and the commitment of a community dedicated to the recovery of this species.”

There are now more than 450 condors on the planet, with 275 flying free in the wild in California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja California, Mexico—making the California Condor Binational Recovery and Reintroduction Program a noteworthy conservation success story.

The recovery of the California condor from the brink of extinction was made possible due to the dedication and collaboration of many conservation organizations. Those organizations include San Diego Zoo Global, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Oregon Zoo, the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Oakland Zoo, and the Phoenix Zoo — along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the World Center for Birds of Prey, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Ventana Wildlife Society, and, in Mexico, the Chapultepec Zoo and the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, or CONANP).

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 seven 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

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.