The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) announced that WCS’s New York Aquarium and Queens Zoo have been recognized with Top Honors in two separate categories during AZA’s Annual Conference in New Orleans.

AZA’s 2019 Exhibit Award went to the New York Aquarium for the Donald Zucker and Barbara Hrbek Zucker Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit. With this award, AZA recognizes excellence by an AZA-accredited facility (US or international) or certified related facility member in the areas of exhibit design and providing visitors with the opportunity to engage in observing and learning about the animals.

“This award is the highest honor in exhibit design, and congratulates New York Aquarium for designing a naturalistic, engaging habitat that provides high-quality animal care and welfare as well as meaningful guest experiences,” said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe. “Ocean Wonders: Sharks! goes above and beyond AZA’s rigorous standards for animal management, safety, conservation, and education, and should be considered a model for others.”

Donald Zucker and Barbara Hrbek Zucker Ocean Wonders: Sharks!, a three-story, 57,500-square-foot exhibit building, drives awareness of the importance of sharks to the health of the world’s oceans; educates visitors about the severe threats sharks face; and inspires guests with the diversity of marine wildlife that exists in the waters around the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut tri-state area. Through cutting-edge and innovative displays, including a shipwreck and shark tagging vessel, the exhibit creates a new generation of conservation stewards. Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors, and tens of thousands of students in the aquarium’s education programs will learn to value and protect the ocean.

The new exhibit amazes visitors as they journey through nine galleries breathtakingly eye-to-eye with sharks, rays and hundreds of species of ocean wildlife. As one explores the exhibit, the wondrous world deep below the ocean surface is revealed, whether it is in the Coral Reef Tunnel, The New York Bight or the dark and mysterious Hudson Canyon’s Edge with large sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks and hundreds of marine species which live off the coast of New York.

“This exciting new shark exhibit will inspire our visitors to help conserve sharks around the world as well as the 26 species found right here in New York. We hope to awaken our guests to the reality that the city that never sleeps is surrounded by the sea that never sleeps,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, WCS Vice President and Director of the New York Aquarium.

Ocean Wonders: Sharks! showcases more than 115 marine species, including 18 species of sharks and rays, to tell the 450 million-year-old-story of sharks; their role as top predators; their vulnerability in a world where 100 million sharks every year are lost to unsustainable fishing; and the surprising diversity of sharks and other wildlife in the waters of New York. The exhibit highlights the work that WCS’ New York Aquarium scientists are doing to protect sharks throughout the region, as well as the conservation efforts of WCS experts globally to protect sharks; and illustrates how the choices we all make in our day-to-day lives affects sharks and their marine habitats.

AZA’s 2019 North American Conservation Award went to the Queens Zoo and the Roger Williams Park Zoo for the for their collaboration on the New England Cottontail Rabbit Breeding and Recovery Program. This annual award recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild. Top Honors winners in this category receive a cash award thanks to the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation.

Said Dan Ashe: “This award recognizes the vital role aquariums and zoos play in saving threatened and endangered animals from extinction within our own communities. Roger Williams Park Zoo and Queens Zoo are trailblazers in North American wildlife conservation, protecting the New England cottontail rabbit and our natural heritage through the Breeding and Recovery Program.”

New England’s native cottontail rabbit is in trouble. Most rabbits observed in the region are the Eastern cottontail rabbit, a non-native species introduced primarily to benefit hunters when the native cottontail populations began to decline in the 1930s. The species is now making a slow comeback thanks to Roger Williams Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, state agencies, and several other partners.

The New England cottontail rabbit population declined primarily due to loss of habitat. The species needs brush, shrubs and densely growing young trees to survive – most of which is gone due to human activity and suburban expansion.

“Comprehending the dire consequences of losing even one species, Roger Williams Park Zoo initiated the program in 2010 by dedicating space, staff and veterinary care for a breeding program” according to Jeremy Goodman, Executive Director of Roger Williams Park Zoo.  “Contrary to popular belief, breeding wild rabbits for release is not easy and we invested lots of effort into developing animal care and housing strategies.  We continue to further hone our techniques in conjunction with our program partners.”

“The New England cottontail program is an excellent example of a strong collaboration among zoos, state and federal wildlife agencies, universities, and private landowners,” noted Craig Piper, WCS’ Director of City Zoos.  “Each partner contributes its expertise to a long term effort to save a species.” 

To learn more about AZA’s Honors and Awards, please visit

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eleven other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit