Highlights from the 2024 AZA Mid-Year Meeting in Memphis: Conservation, Education, and Collaboration

Our team had the privilege of attending the 2024 AZA Mid-Year meeting, gaining insights on conservation and education, and reuniting with colleagues from around the globe. This year had a record-breaking number of attendees with over 1,100 members convening in Memphis.

Dr. Olu Oshinubi, VP and Architectural Department Manager at the Epsten Group, participated in the meeting as an attendee and exhibitor promoting over thirteen years of Zoo Design experience and Epsten Group’s focus on sustainable design. Oshinubi has been attending AZA events for five years. He finds value in membership through the networking that has led to long-standing professional relationships we’ve made at conferences and workshops throughout the years. This year he was able to share details of the exciting new Andean Bear exhibit he’s working on with Ursa International at the Salisbury Zoo in Maryland.

Dr Gail Lash, Founding Partner at Ursa International, joined Oshinubi at the Mid-Year meeting. She remarked that the AZA Mid-Year, “…is all about working sessions and accomplishing high-priority tasks. This is when all of the AZA committees gather, Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs) meet, Species Survival Plan (SSPs) leaders and caretakers review their plans, Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) species program meetings happen, and much more.” Oshinubi agreed that “The focus on action planning and collaboration at the Mid-year meeting was impressive. It was inspiring to see so many dedicated professionals coming together to work on solutions for conservation and animal welfare.”

Lash is an Advisor to the AZA Diversity Committee and is very passionate about the good work they do. At every Mid-Year, this committee holds a full-day “Diversity Summit” which is thought-provoking, eye-opening, in-depth, community-building, and self-reflective. Lash described the powerful topics covered at the summit, “after being welcomed by AZA Leadership, 100+ people sitting at round tables dove into the murky waters of DEAI, focusing on our own emotional intelligence, personal impact assessments, self-care and mindfulness, equity and emotional quotient inventory, and an action planning exercise. Whew! A fabulous and informative day was had by all.” In addition to the Diversity Summit, the committee hosted its half-day Diversity Committee meeting (open to all), its Regional Communities of Practice gatherings, and its Joint Peoples Committee meeting.

One of the most anticipated activities of the Mid-Year was Zoo Day at the Memphis Zoo. The weather cooperated which allowed attendees to walk the expansive grounds, go on behind-the-scenes tours, and experience the extensive number of species habitats. Oshinubi shared, “Zoo Day was a highlight of the conference. It’s amazing to see the dedication of zoos and aquariums to wildlife conservation and education. The Memphis Zoo is doing fantastic work, and it was inspiring to see their efforts firsthand.” Oshinubi enjoyed the behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibits, especially the four-acre Cat Country featuring grassy savannas, rock caves, and a waterfall. He learned about multiple preservation programs for several endangered species and also participated in a tour of the impressive Animal hospital noting that there is a plan underway for renovation and expansion of the facility. Last year, at Oklahoma City’s Mid-year meeting, Epsten Group was honored to sponsor Zoo Day and exhibit our Architecture & Interior Design and Zoo Design services right next to the Galapagos Tortoise habitat.

While in Memphis, the team also took time to eat the local famous bar-b-cue and honored the Blues culture. Oshinubi and Lash enjoyed visiting venues that overlooked the Mississippi River, and Beales Street experiencing one of the most historic cities in the southern states. All in all, both agreed that it was a worthwhile trip working with colleagues, renewing friendships, and gaining new insights and potential collaborations.

Epsten Group and Ursa International appreciate the hardworking members and volunteers at AZA, and we look forward to seeing everyone again in Calgary in September. Join us for the On The Boards presentation at the AZA conference. If you have a zoo design project, big or small, that you need help with – please reach out to Olu Oshinubi, olu.oshinubi@salasobrien.com. We are here to help!

About the Author

Dr. Olu Oshinubi

Dr. Olu Oshinubi, Architecture Department Manager, has been with Epsten Group for over seven years. He has extensive experience in the design, document preparation, and management of many large-scale complex projects, which has created a strong foundation for his work as a zoo design professional. His expertise in computer applications and technical background have enhanced his ability to execute the design of small to large-scale projects through problem solving and coordination with all stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle. He currently manages a majority of the firm’s zoo design portfolio, and his collaborative approach and project management expertise have led to many of the firm’s successful projects.

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