By Ric Urban, Newport Aquarium Animal Ambassador
As we come off Major League Baseball’s All-Star Week here in Greater Cincinnati, we roll right into my favorite week in July – National Zoo Keeper Week. This is the eighth year of celebration for all zoos and aquariums around the country to recognize our “All-Stars” for the animals and the conservation of our environment. In 2007, Congress recognized the valuable contributions and dedication of American animal professionals by declaring the third week in July as National Zoo Keeper Week.
Did you know that more than 180 million people visit aquariums and zoos across the United States each year? That is an amazing number! More people visit aquariums and zoos in the U.S. annually than all major professional sports leagues combined.
Why do we go to aquariums and zoos? I think everyone wants to see and get close to animals in one way or another. Guests find a way to relate to the animals. Our keepers or biologists can share stories about the animals under their care and make that connection with the visitors. People really love hearing the stories about the animals.
A “keeper” is just a common name that covers a variety of titles for animal care professionals around the country. At Newport Aquarium, we call our keepers biologists. Biologists’ daily routines are as diverse as the animal collection they work with. Biologists prepare diets, clean glass, build exhibits and teach. Animal keepers are your front-line educators for endangered species around the world.
The Newport Aquarium is proud to be an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which means that we meet exceptional standards in animal care, wildlife conservation and public education. The Newport Aquarium is one of 229 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums in North America, where there are more than 3,000 professional animal keepers providing invaluable roles as leaders in animal conservation, habitat preservation and education.
AZA aquariums and zoos spend more than $160 million a year on conservation programs around the world. Biologists and keepers are the catalysts for many of these global programs.
In the early 1990s, zoo keepers started raising money through bowl-a-thons to support rhinos in Kenya. Today, zoo keepers have raised more than $5 million to support the conservation efforts on two continents to protect five species of rhinos. There are more than 600 Species Survival Plans that biologists dedicate their lives to preserve and protect around the world.
At the Newport Aquarium, we are proud of the contributions that our biologists make on a daily basis – to the animals and to the preservation of the habitats in which the animals live. Our biologists work on committees for the management of animal populations in zoos and aquariums. They work for the preservation of our local waterways and wetlands. They develop guidelines for management of species under professional animal care, and they work on the conservation of habitat and ecosystems for the wildlife where they live.
Newport Aquarium biologists and staff are involved in more than two dozen managed animal programs, which include zebra sharks, Asian small-clawed otters and six species of penguins.
So, during National Zoo Keeper Week, come and visit the Newport Aquarium and ask our biologists or interpreters about the animals. Your visit helps us support all of the conservation programs to save animals and protect the habitats they live in.
If you see me around the aquarium, ask me about our African penguins and what the Newport Aquarium is doing for penguins around the world.
Ric Urban has more than 30 years of experience in the zoo keeper industry. Since 2004, he has served as a member of the animal husbandry team at Newport Aquarium, where he currently oversees animal acquisition and disposition, exhibit development, and compliance. He also serves as an animal ambassador for Newport Aquarium, making public and media appearances on behalf of the Greater Cincinnati attraction.
Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky jewel attraction is home to: The world’s first and only Shark Bridge; the world’s first Shark Ray Breeding Program; Mighty Mike – the biggest and baddest American alligator outside the state of Florida; the largest and most diverse collection of sharks in the Midwest; and one of the world’s largest and most diverse penguin exhibits. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and is located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.
One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444