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An interview with Ginny Busch, President of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund in the UK.

Virginia Busch with Alina, the first baby orangutan born at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. © Busch Gardens.
Busch gardens and associated companies make a living by getting people through their doors to see captive animals. Much good conservation work goes on in zoos and animal parks worldwide, what work do SeaWorld & Busch Gardens do?
We contribute to conservation in two ways. First we support with material, labour, facilities and cash to conservation work around the world. Our zoological parks are the largest donors to the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, a registered non-profit foundation that supports conservation, animal rescue, education and wildlife research. The Fund distributed more than $2 million to registered charities worldwide in just the last three years.
The second way we support conservation is every bit as important. We care for animals in an educational setting that allows people to experience things they would never get the privilege of experiencing otherwise. The first step in conservation is education. A child will visit Busch Gardens today and learn about the plight of rhinos in Africa. He will see a rhino calf that was born just a few weeks ago at Busch Gardens. That birth and the awareness it creates and nourishes will help assure the future of this extraordinary species. That child will be more knowledgeable and more sensitive to the future of wildlife after his visit than he was before.

How does keeping Orca and Beluga in captivity go together with an environmental organization?
Very well. An African conservationist named Baba Dioum once said, ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.’ We repeat that quote often because it is the essence of what our zoological parks, including SeaWorld and Discovery Cove, are all about. If a person's imagination is captured by seeing a killer whale or beluga at SeaWorld, that person is far likelier to embrace conservation and environmental stewardship and, perhaps, make it a central part of their lives. I have seen it more times than I can count in our parks.

Looking at the SeaWorld website & Busch Garden’s website, I can find virtually no information about their conservation policies or work, apart from one press release from 2005. Do they have a stated environmental/conservation policy?
That is certainly a mistake on our part and one we will work to correct. We are very proud of the work we do in conservation, whether providing aviculturists for puffin conservation in Maine, treating animals injured in oil spills, rescuing orphaned sea lions and beached dolphins, or giving money to conservation biologists the world over. The best statement of environmental purpose I can offer is the mission of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund: ‘To work with purpose and passion on behalf of wildlife and habitats worldwide, encouraging sustainable solutions through support of species research, animal rescue and rehabilitation and conservation education.’ Our zoological parks have always worked to enrich the lives of our guests through education and wildlife interpretation. To learn more about what the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund does to support conservation please log onto our website: www.swbg-conservationfund.org.

I see that the Conservation fund supports many excellent projects and research initiatives. What percentage of the profits from the parks goes towards these projects?
I don't know, but direct cash endowments to the Fund and the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute are not the only ways our parks work to conserve wildlife and habitats. Our parks will rescue, rehabilitate and return to the wild more marine animals than any organization in the world this year. We will make our facilities available to scientists studying a wide variety of subjects. We will gather and distribute data on our collection and the wild animals we treat to researchers and conservation biologists. And, most importantly, we will educate millions of people in our parks on the importance of conservation.
Baby rhino which was born at Busch Gardens in August 2006. © Busch Gardens.
Do the parks run any endangered species breeding programmes?
Yes. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens are accredited members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, a group that assures the highest standard of husbandry, display and interpretation. We care for more than 40 endangered and threatened species. The AZA administers Species Survival Plans for endangered animals. I am proud to say that we have been instrumental in the success of many of these programs, including Humboldt penguins, monk seals, black rhinos, lowland gorilla, and grevy’s zebra.

What environmental shortcomings has Miss Busch identified at the parks?
I think the biggest shortcoming, and one we are working hard to address, was not making it easier for our guests to become conservationists themselves. Ten years ago there was no simple mechanism in place for a guest to help wild animals in need. Today, our guest can contribute to the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund through direct donation, purchase of one of our a gift products where 15% of the purchase price goes back to the Fund, participating in one of our many behind the scenes tours and simply coming to our parks. Many more outlets are being developed for our guest to be a part of the conservation work that SeaWorld and Busch Gardens support. We are also careful to employ sound conservation practices in our parks in areas like recycling. Our parent company, Anheuser-Busch, is one of the world's largest recycler of aluminium beverage containers.

What steps do the parks take to ensure that their animals are not captured from the wild?
Collection from the wild isn't common, but it is sometimes necessary. We now care for a group of rhinos that were to be culled by wildlife managers in Africa. If we hadn't taken them they'd be dead today. Likewise walrus pups that have been orphaned by subsistence hunting in the Arctic. These animals not only receive the finest care we can provide but they are also serving as ambassadors for their species. As far as collection of other kinds, we scrupulously follow U.S. and international law and conventions on the acquisition and display of captive animals. We don't collect very often, but when we do, we follow sound conservation and zoological practice.

Finally, your parks are in a unique position, due to the numbers of visitors passing through every week, to get key conservation messages across to the public, what steps are taken at the parks to get such messages across?
I hope I have addressed this in my answers to your previous questions, but I should again emphasize that conservation and education are core values in our company. I receive letters all the time from parents who say that a visit to one of parks sparked in their children an interest in animals and conservation that didn't exist before. My own passion for animals and the need to conserve wildlife and wild places was the result of seeing animals in our parks as a child.