I learned more than how to tackle while playing linebacker for the Eldorado High School Golden Eagles — Class of 1974. I learned the value of hard work and dedication, about setting and achieving high standards, about teamwork and leadership, and that despite all that, sometimes things don’t work out the way you hope.
The leaders and employees at the ABQ BioPark hold themselves to the global “gold standard” in the zoological profession — accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). To achieve and maintain this accreditation, the BioPark must meet the world’s most comprehensive and rigorous standards in animal welfare and veterinary care, and it must continuously uphold those standards through re-accreditation every five years. Only 254 facilities worldwide meet this standard, meaning Albuquerque’s zoo is one of the world’s very best. That takes hard work and dedication. It requires teamwork. It demands leadership.
But sometimes, things don’t work out the way you hope, and tragedy recently struck the BioPark with the loss of Thorn, a three-year old elephant, and his sister, eight-year old Jasmine, to elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), as well as three great apes in 2021. Most recently, Thunder, a 22-year old chimpanzee, succumbed to a Shigella bacterial infection in July.
The deaths of these animals has been devastating for the BioPark staff. They provide loving care to these animals every day, and they mourn their loss. This commitment inspires them to work with other experts to investigate the cause and understand what happened. That knowledge will help the animals we care for and their wild relatives.
The diseases that killed Thorn and Thunder — EEHV and the Shigella bacteria — also occur in wild elephants and chimpanzees. And now, BioPark experts are using their experience and working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Center for Disease Control, the New Mexico Department of Health and others to develop enhanced bio-security protocols and help develop new antibiotic, antibody and vaccine treatments that, one day, will end these devastating diseases for elephants and chimpanzees in zoos and in nature.
The BioPark’s transparency with the public about these tragic deaths is a testament to staff’s professionalism and commitment to the Albuquerque community. Their ongoing collaboration to fight these devastating diseases with a broad network of federal, state and local animal health care professionals is a demonstration of their dedication to ever-improving care for animals.
I missed a tackle or two when the Eldorado Golden Eagles lost a 1973 contest to the Clovis Wildcats, a game we were favored to win. But we were a team. We didn’t blame individual error. We watched film. We had supportive coaches and fans. That support encouraged us to hit the practice field and work even harder. We got better, became co-district champions and went to the state playoffs.
Albuquerque’s BioPark is a world-class team. It recently suffered some tragic losses, but the team and its leaders are working hard to recover and improve. Right now, it needs support from its fans, and especially, its coaches — the mayor and City Council.
With your support and encouragement, they’ll bounce back, and the world’s biodiversity — from elephants to chimps to Mexican wolves to Rio Grande silvery minnows — will benefit.
Great cities have great zoos and aquariums. Albuquerque is a great city, and right now, your BioPark needs and deserves your support. Please give it.