Wildlife Conservation Society

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New visual identity launched in 2015.

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) was founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and currently works to conserve more than two million square miles of wild places around the world. The organization is led by President and CEO Cristián Samper, former Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Based at the Bronx Zoo, WCS maintains approximately 500 field conservation projects in 65 countries, with 200 PhD scientists on staff. It manages four New York City wildlife parks in addition to the Bronx Zoo: the Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo. Together these parks receive 4 million visitors per year.[1] All of the New York City facilities are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).[2]

WCS Mission and Vision


WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.[3]


WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth.

WCS Priority Regions and Species

On Oct. 7, 2015, WCS unveiled its WCS: 2020 strategic plan, supported by a new WCS.org website and brand identity. The strategy takes as its goal the conservation of the world's largest wild places in 15 priority regions that hold more than 50 percent of the world's biodiversity. In addition to conserving these remaining ecologically intact areas, the strategy seeks to reverse the decline of six priority species groups across their range. It further calls for maintaining viable populations of critically endangered species in WCS’s five wildlife parks in New York City, including the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium.

The priority regions include:

  • Arctic Beringia (Arctic coasts and seas of Alaska, Western Canada, and Russia)
  • Spine of the North American Continent (North American coniferous forests)
  • Eastern North American Forests (Adirondacks, Northern Ontario, and boreal forests)
  • New York Seascape (Coasts and seas of the mid-Atlantic)
  • Mesoamerica & Western Caribbean (Forests, coasts, and coral reefs in Belize, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua)
  • Andes, Amazon & Orinoco (Forests, grasslands, and wetlands of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela)
  • Patagonia (Coasts of Argentina and Chile)
  • Central Africa & Gulf of Guinea (Forests and coast, including Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda)
  • East African Forests & Savannahs (Savannah, woodland, and forest including Kenya, Mozambique, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia)
  • Madagascar & Western Indian Ocean (Coral reefs, and island forests of Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania)
  • Temperate Asian Mountains & Grasslands (Grasslands, forests, and mountains of central and northeast Asia)
  • South Asia and Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal)
  • Lower Mekong (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam)
  • Southeast Asian Archipelago (Forests, coasts, and reefs of Indonesia and Malaysia)
  • Melanesia ("Ridge to reef" in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands)

The priority species groups include: apes; sharks & rays; big cats; whales & dolphins; elephants; and tortoises & freshwater turtles.

These species groups were chosen because they are: 1) deeply valued; 2) critical to the ecological functioning of priority landscapes and seascapes; 3) threatened; and 4) powerful flagships for the conservation of our priority regions and for addressing critical conservation issues globally.[4]

The key components of the new brand identity include a new logo and the new tagline: "We Stand for Wildlife(SM)."



Tour through Bronx Zoo, 1950

The Wildlife Conservation Society was originally chartered by the state of New York on April 26, 1895. Then known as the New York Zoological Society, the organization embraced a mandate to advance wildlife conservation, promote the study of zoology, and create a first-class zoological park. Its name was changed to the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1993. Among the founders of WCS were Andrew H. Green, best known as the father of greater New York City, Henry Fairfield Osborn, Columbia University professor and curator of the American Museum of Natural History, and George Bird Grinnell, founder of the Audubon Society and editor of Forest and Stream Magazine. Theodore Roosevelt, members of the Boone and Crockett Club, and other notable New Yorkers were also involved in the Society's creation.

The Bronx Zoo (formerly the New York Zoological Park) was designed along the lines of other cultural institutions in New York City, such as the American Museum of Natural History. The city provided the land for the new zoo and some funding for buildings and annual operating costs. WCS raised most of the funds for construction and operations from private donors, and selected the scientific and administrative personnel.


In the late nineteenth century William Temple Hornaday, then director of the New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo), carried out a direct-mail survey of wildlife conditions through the United States, and publicized the decline of birds and mammals in the organization's annual reports. In 1897 Hornaday also hired field researcher Andrew J. Stone to survey the condition of wildlife in the territory of Alaska. On the basis of these studies, Hornaday led the campaign for new laws to protect the wildlife there and the United States as a whole. In 1901, a small herd of American Bison were gathered in a 20-acre meadow just off what is now the Pelham Parkway roadway. Starting in 1905, Hornaday led a national campaign to reintroduce the almost extinct bison to government sponsored refuges.[5][6] Hornaday, Theodore Roosevelt and others formed the American Bison Society in 1905. The Bronx Zoo sent 15 bison to Wichita Reserve in 1907 and additional bison in later years. The saving of this uniquely American symbol is one of the great success stories in the history of wildlife conservation. Hornaday campaigned for wildlife protection throughout his thirty years as director of the Bronx Zoo.

William Beebe, the first curator of birds at the Bronx Zoo, began a program of field research soon after the Bronx Zoo opened. His research on wild pheasants took him to Asia from 1908 to 1911 and resulted in a series of books on pheasants. Beebe's field work also resulted in the creation of the Society’s Department of Tropical Research, which Beebe directed from 1922 until his retirement in 1948. Beebe’s research in an undersea vessel called the bathysphere took him half a mile under the ocean floor off Bermuda in 1934 to record for the first time human observations of the bottom of the deep sea. The bathysphere is currently displayed at the New York Aquarium.

The war years marked the arrival of Fairfield Osborn as NYZS president and Laurance Rockefeller as executive committee chairman. A best selling writer on conservation and son of WCS founder Henry Fairfield Osborn, Osborn soon embraced changes that signaled new thinking in the organization. Guests were allowed to bring their own cameras into the Bronx Zoo, while animals were grouped by continents and ecosystems rather than genetic orders and families, beginning with the African Plains exhibit in 1941.[7]

After World War II, under the leadership of Osborn, the organization extended its programs in field biology and conservation. In 1946 WCS helped found the Jackson Hole Wildlife Park, which became part of Grand Teton National Park in 1962. In the late 1950s WCS began a series of wildlife surveys and projects in Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burma, and the Malay peninsula. In 1959 it sponsored George Schaller’s seminal study of mountain gorillas in Congo. Since that expedition, Schaller has gone on to become the world's preeminent field biologist, studying wildlife throughout Africa, Asia and South America. Conservation activities continued to expand under the leadership of William G. Conway, who became director of the Bronx Zoo in 1962 and President of WCS in 1992. Active as a field biologist in Patagonia, Conway promoted a new vision of zoos as conservation organizations, which cooperated in breeding endangered species. He also designed new types of zoo exhibits aimed at teaching visitors about habitats that support wildlife, and encouraged the expansion of WCS's field programs.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the WCS took a leadership role in pioneering zoological exhibitions by seeking to recreate natural environments for the animals on display. Under the leadership of WCS director William G. Conway, the Bronx Zoo opened its World of Darkness for nocturnal species in 1969 and its World of Birds for avian displays in 1974.[8] Eventually New York City turned to WCS to renew and manage three city-run facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. The redesigned Central Park Zoo opened in 1988, followed by the Queens Zoo in 1992 and the Prospect Park Zoo in 1993.[9] From 1994 through 1996 Archie Carr III of WCS helped establish the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, a reserve for endangered jaguar.

Today WCS is at work on some 500 projects in more than 60 nations around the world that are intended to help protect both wildlife and the wild places in which they live.[10] The organization endeavors to protect 25 percent of the world's biodiversity—from the gorillas of Africa and the tigers of Asia to macaws in South America and the sharks, whales and turtles traveling through the planet's seas. In recent years WCS has actively worked in conflict areas like Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar, where agreements on wildlife resource have contributed to peace and stability. More than 4 million people visit WCS's wildlife parks in New York City each year. WCS's zoos and aquarium inform visitors from across the globe with state-of-the-art exhibits with naturalistic settings. Guests encounter a variety of species threatened in the wild and learn how they can help secure the future of these animals. With the award-winning Congo Gorilla Forest, which presents several troops of western lowland gorillas as one might see them in the wild, the Bronx Zoo became the first zoo to directly contribute exhibit admission fees to field-based conservation, with more than $11 million raised for work in central Africa.[11]

Wildlife Conservation International

Wildlife Conservation International was the field division of the Wildlife Conservation Society when it was known as the New York Zoological Society. The division is the forerunner of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Global Conservation Program.

Mannahatta Project

The Mannahatta Project[12] is a project by the WCS to reconstruct and map how Manhattan looked in 1609 when Henry Hudson discovered the island. Elements being mapped include where the streams flowed and where each species of tree grew.[13] The Lenni Lenape people who lived there called the island Mannahatta, or "land of many hills." The project highlights the ways that development has altered the natural ecosystems.[14]

See also



  1. "About Us" WCS.org
  2. "List of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums" Association of Zoos and Aquariums (aza.org).
  3. "About Us" WCS.org
  4. WCS Unveils Strategy and a New Website and Brand Identity to Support It Newsroom.wcs.org
  5. William Temple Hornaday: Saving the American Bison Smithsonian Institution
  6. William Temple Hornaday: Visionary of the National Zoo Smithsonian Institution
  7. Bridges, William (1974). Gathering of Animals: An Unconventional History of the New York Zoological Society. Harper & Row Publishers. pp. 450-453. ISBN 0-06-010472-4.
  8. Hancocks, David (2002). A Different Nature: The Paradoxical World of Zoos and Their Uncertain Future. University of California Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-52023676-9.
  9. About the City Zoos
  10. "About Us" WCS.org
  11. Congo Gorilla Forest WCS.org
  12. The Mannahatta Project Wildlife Conservation Society
  13. Welikia: Beyond Manahatta"
  14. Nick Paumgarten "Our Local Correspondents: The Mannahatta Project" The New Yorker, 1 October 2007, p. 44.

further reading

  • Bridges, William. A Gathering of Animals: An Unconventional History of the New York Zoological Society. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
  • Goddard, Donald, ed. Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.

External links