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Detroit Zoo doesn’t monkey around when it comes to animal welfare, conservation, energy and education


Almost every kid in Southeast Michigan has fond memories of the Detroit Zoo … riding on the Tauber Family Railroad, watching the penguins dive and swim or the monkeys swing from the trees, riding the carousel or other special family outings there.

These are great rrecollections, but our zoo is so much more. It is hub of animal conservation, a generator of sustainable power, a spectacular school room and much more.

The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) new “The Zoo That Could Be” campaign takes you beyond just the viewing of animals. It showcases the zoo’s long-term and far-reaching goals of wildlife conservation, animal welfare, sustainability and education, as well as the impact it has on the community.

“Most people expect they are going to visit a wonderful zoo – a beautiful, natural space that provides a great experience for people and for animals. What they ultimately discover is that the Detroit Zoo is and does so much more,” said DZS Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan.  “This campaign changes the conversation and explains what we do and why we do it.  We hope it will educate and inspire the community to think of their Zoo in a whole new way.”

The 60-second TV ads, which combine poetry, art and animation and are fittingly seen through the eyes of a child, focus on all the zoo does to impact wildlife, wild places and the community. You may have seen some of them already. We hope so.

The messages are also in print, digital, and social media.

In one ad, eggs sit abandoned and then turn into a prosperous flock, a representation of what the zoo has done for endangered Great Lakes piping plover.

Another ad shows the Detroit Zoo as the zoo that could stop a polar bear from melting, and the zoo that could lend a helping home to the all alone and helpless. It has taken in polar bears from a tropical circus and rescued lions from a junkyard and an urban drug house.  It also just took in a 29-year-old female polar bear, which lost its home when the zoo in Indianapolis permanently closed its polar bear exhibit.

Our zoo was also the first zoo in the world to no longer have elephants, due to ethical concerns. That inspired other zoos to follow suit.

The DZS’s learning experiences are also called out in the ads. The DZS regularly collaborates with local school districts to provide educational experiences for students “who arrive on buses and depart on wings” and has partnered for nearly two decades with an organization in the Amazon rainforest to bring education to underserved school children in this vital ecological region.

Berman Academy for Humane Education was founded at the zoo to help foster better relations between humans and animals. It aims to teach people how to nourish, aid, and have compassion for the other animals on the Earth, besides just the bi-pedal, thumbed ones, who can take a car to the zoo.

These are just some of the ways the Detroit Zoological Society contributes to wildlife conservation across the globe. It has also helped reverse the global amphibian crisis, rescued and rehabilitated imperiled gorilla populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and taken the lead to revive a species on the brink of extinction, the Partula nodosa, a Tahitian land snail.

This history has not gone unnoticed. The Detroit Zoo is widely known as a place where animal well-being is a top priority. It is the home of the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare, which is an internationally recognized resource for captive animal welfare knowledge and best practices that provides training for animal care staff from around the world.

Of course, with such a massive facility, there is no doubt energy efficiency is a concern. With that in mind and an eye on the future, the zoo has developed a system to ease the energy intake. It will soon debut the first dry biodigester in Michigan and the first zoo-based system of its kind in the country. The biodigester will convert more than 400 tons of animal crap (manure) into compost and capture the methane byproduct to help power the animal hospital.

This new source of energy is not the only way the zoo moves to a greener future. It also discontinued the sale of bottled water, which may help keep 60,000 one-use plastic bottles out of landfills each year.  There is also a wind farm, which helps provide electricity to the zoo.

All this has gotten the Detroit Zoo attention from notable environmental groups. It won the 2015 Green Award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

The ads were created by the Detroit Zoo’s longtime pro bono advertising agency Doner, with animation by New York-based creative agency Psyop. To see “The Zoo That Could” and learn more about the DZS’s efforts in conservation, animal welfare, sustainability and education, as well as its community impact, visit

The Detroit Zoo has thrilled kids, young and old, for generations and saved the lives of countless animals. These ads not only show us it will do so for years to come, they show us what it has already done.

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