Our Animals


Our world is changing, and we are gradually becoming more aware of the challenges facing our wildlife.  Conservation of wild species, animals and plants alike, and their wild homes is what the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Virginia Zoo are all about.  But it’s in our own backyards that we can make the biggest difference in preserving our natural habitats.

Palm Oil

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Captive Breedingcubs on exhibit

The Virginia Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting animal care, wildlife conservation, education, and science. We participate in many AZA programs and activities, including Species Survival Programs (SSP). SSP animals are some of the most critically endangered species on the planet. Their wild and captive genetic populations are monitored and closely managed to avoid inbreeding or natural catastrophe.  In most cases the loss of one or the other population would clearly lead to extinction of the species.

In the SSP program, zoos work together to help endangered and threatened species.  Through a wide range of activities, including cooperative breeding programs, research, public education, fundraising, field projects, and reintroduction we contribute to the long range survivability of many charismatic animal species.  We currently participate in SSPs for more than 60 species of animals, including:

  • Asian Small-Clawed Otter
  • Baboon
  • Eastern Bongo
  • Elephant
  • Fennec Fox
  • Fiji Island Banded Iguana
  • Gibbon
  • Goeldi’s Monkey
  • Rhinoceros Hornbill
  • Lion
  • Malayan Tapir
  • Ocelot
  • Orangutan
  • Red Panda
  • Tiger
  • White Rhino

vagreenlogoVirginia Green

The Zoo has been recognized as a Virginia Green attraction by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).  Conservation is an important part of the Zoo’s mission. Protecting wild animals and the wild spaces where they live is an urgent concern.  Many incredible animals and natural resources are threatened because of habitat destruction. It takes the commitment of the entire Zoo staff to initiate and maintain daily green actions, but everyone from animal keepers to office staff is dedicated to this goal.

Virginia Green is the statewide program that works to reduce the environmental impact of Virginia’s tourism industry. It is run as a partnership between DEQ, the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association. To qualify, Zoo staff submitted an application outlining the Zoo’s green actions and commitment to the environment.

erplogoElizabeth River Project Model Level River Star

The Elizabeth River Project has called the Virginia Zoo one of the “best of the best.” The ERP’s Model Level recognition is given to facilities that lead the community in environmental stewardship through exceptional results in pollution prevention and wildlife habitat protection as well as efforts to mentor others.

The Zoo was recognized for its extensive project to reclaim the wetlands that border the Zoo’s Lafayette River shoreline, its oyster habitat restoration, and environmental exhibits, including an Eco-Garden. At the end of the Zoo’s parking lot, visitors can see a dramatic transformation, where Zoo staff and volunteers, in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, removed rubble and invasive plants and restored a healthy wetland. The area was revitalized with 9,000 native plants and grasses. An oyster reef helps stabilize the shore and other features include an osprey platform, a permeable walkway that soaks runoff and educational signage.

Two new gardens showcase how a rain garden can filter run-off and also feature a model green roof (on a dog house!), rain barrels for irrigation and solar-powered fountains.  A children’s rain garden also features fun re-use of “trash” including the transformation of old tires into colorful planters, bowling balls into ladybugs and old industrial spools into stepping stones.


In January 2010, the Virginia Zoo become a sponsor of NuRide, a program that encourages people to commute greener by car pooling, biking, walking, telecommuting and taking public transportation.  People earn points for their green actions, which are redeemed for prizes – such as admission to the Virginia Zoo.

Recycling Perks Recycling Perks Logo

Recycling Perks strives to improve household recycling efforts and community service by its residents. It is our objective to reduce waste, promote local economic growth and preserve natural resources for our future. We partner with recycling companies, municipalities and local businesses to achieve our goal of saving cities revenue, increasing customer traffic for local businesses and helping recycling companies provide the best possible service to their customers.

  • Activate your free and private account to earn points for recycling
  • The more you recycle, the more points you will earn
  • Redeem points for rewards are offered by local businesses

Conservation in Action

The Virginia Zoo is proud of its efforts and the recognition it has gained.

We believe our actions are making a significant, positive impact on the environment, and we are able to educate guests and supporters about the need for environmentally friendly lifestyles.

Some of the Zoo’s conservation actions include:

  • Reducing waste and recycling
  • Eliminating Styrofoam products
  • Cleaning animal enclosures by sweeping instead of hosing down areas
  • Reducing electrical use by using sensors to turn on lights in guest restrooms, keeping lights turned off in hallways and unused rooms in the administration building, and keeping blinds open to use natural light in staff offices
  • Using drip irrigation systems in gardens (which require less water) and using the irrigation system only when rainfall is not sufficient
  • Installing three rain gardens to absorb and filter run-off storm water before it seeps into the Lafayette River
  • Restoring wetlands at the Zoo, removing invasive plants and concrete and planting new marsh grasses
  • Organic gardening, including rose gardens, so any plant materials can be fed to Zoo animals as a treat
  • Partnering with Chesapeake Bay Foundation to nurture oyster beds in river
  • Creating Eco-Garden featuring environmentally friendly garden techniques including composting and a dog house with a green roof to educate visitors about opportunities for their own homes.

Oyster Restoration

Oyster Restoration on the Lafayette River – Animals Beyond our Fences!

They’re not furry, feathery, or covered in scales, but oysters are some of the mightiest animals at the Virginia Zoo.

It takes just one oyster one day to purify 50 gallons of polluted water.  Unfortunately, our region’s oyster population has drastically diminished due to pollution, disease, and over fishing, but their benefits are needed now more than ever.  That’s why the Virginia Zoo is proud to partner with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (BCF), Norfolk Wetlands Board, NOAA, and many other organizations and government departments to help restore native oysters in the Lafayette River.  Restoring the oyster beds also helps to create habitat for other small native species such as fish and crabs.

Along the shoreline that boarders the Zoo, zoo staff, along with volunteers, maintain floats that will nurture the reefs and encourage the growth of baby oysters, called “spat”.  More information about the Zoo’s Oyster Restoration Project is posted at the bridge near the Zoo’s pond.  If you would like to help out by creating an oyster garden where you live, call the CBF at (757) 622-1964 or visit www.cbf.org/virginiaoysters.

What you can do right now to help the environment!

Get in partnership with the Virginia Zoo or your local AZA zoo or aquarium

Not only are they fun places to see amazing animals, but AZA zoos and aquariums also work very hard to save animals and their habitats around the world and right here in your own backyard. AZA zoos and aquariums have many volunteer and educational programs for kids just like you! Find out how you can get involved.

Help save the planet right in your own neighborhood.

Organize a local clean up, maybe along your street or a nearby stream. Recycle whatever you can. Get your friends and family involved! Remember, everything you do counts!

Garden for wildlife

Plant native, flowering plants in your yard to attract butterflies. Plant sunflowers to create beautiful, natural bird feeders. Leave small brush piles for smaller critters to hide in.  Maintain a green garden and lawn without pesticides. Also consider buying locally grown produce.

Help out wildlife

If you see a wild animal in trouble, call your local animal control office or our Animal Services Department (757) 441-2374, ext. 266 for a listing of local wildlife rehabilitators.

Visit the Virginia Zoo Gift Shop and get one of our Conservation Bookmarks for only $1 donation
Your donation will go to the Virginia Zoo Research and Conservation Fund. It will make a difference in how we are able to help one of the most important missions of our Zoo – conserving wildlife in their natural habitat.

Make a donation to the Virginia Zoo Conservation Fund

This fund helps us to further conservation efforts, including in-house conservation projects undertaken by Virginia Zoo staff as well as local, national and international projects that meet the Zoo's mission to serve "people, animals and the environment." Click here for more information.

Use eco-friendly cleaning products

These items work better than ever and can easily be found at your neighborhood store.

Visit these websites to learn even more:                                                                                        










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