Theme parks are a great way to escape reality, but some parks offer more than just an exciting getaway. Several theme parks, especially those featuring animals, have made significant contributions to research and conservation. All the parks on our list are AZA-accredited, something that is only bestowed on facilities whose contributions to research and conservation are well established. However, each of these parks is also furthering conservation efforts in their own unique ways. Here are a few of the parks that put just as much focus on improving our world as they do on offering an escape from it.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Since 1995, The Disney World Conservation Fund has awarded more than $65 million to fight the decline of wildlife. The fund has awarded grants to a vast array of conservation organizations around the world to support things like snow leopard conservation in China, saving Tasman Parakeets, conserving the pygmy sloth in Panama and more. Animal Kingdom also brings conservation efforts into their parks. The benches throughout the parks are made from recycled plastic and the gift shops sell souvenirs made from recycled materials. And while ditching plastic straws has recently become a trend, Animal Kingdom got rid of plastic straws and lids years ago.
The San Diego Zoo
Easily one of the most famous zoos in the United States, the San Diego Zoo has over 200 conservation scientists working in 35 countries around the world. The zoo has received numerous awards for its conservation efforts and its institute is one of the largest zoo-based multidisciplinary research efforts in the world. In addition to the research contributions, the zoo also maintains a cryopreservation facility called the frozen zoo for rare sperm and eggs.
SeaWorld/ Busch Gardens
SeaWorld has been a leader in conservation long before conservation was a hot button issue. Since the park opened its doors in 1964, the company has rescued and rehabilitated more than 35,000 animals making it the largest animal rescue program in the United States. The SeaWorld facilities are one of only 3 places in Florida capable of rescuing stranded manatees and as their rescue team is available 24/7, SeaWorld often serves as the 911 call from local, state and federal agencies. SeaWorld San Diego is one of the few facilities that has successfully rehabilitated and released a whale calf. In addition to their rescue efforts, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund has awarded more than $11 million in conservation grants to more than 800 organizations since its inception in 2003.