Date: September 18 2008Contact: Mike McClanahanASHEBORO N.C.— The Association of Zoos and Aquariums AZA this week awarded the North Carolina Zoo the “International Conservation Award – Significant Achievement” for the zoo’s work to protect elephants in the African nation of Cameroon.The Elephants of Cameroon Project is funded by the North Carolina Zoo Society and led by N.C. Zoo Chief Veterinarian Dr. Mike Loomis in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund-Cameroon. Rich Bergl N.C. Zoo curator of conservation and research received the award on the zoo’s behalf Wednesday at the AZA national convention in Milwaukee. “We are truly grateful for this award” Loomis said. “We are particularly thrilled that the award draws attention to the plight of African elephants and the importance of efforts to protect them as well as the safety and prosperity of people who live near them.”While it was primarily poaching that led to African elephants being added to the endangered species list in 1988 elephants are also threatened in Cameroon as human populations expand into the animals’ traditional habitat areas. Conflicts between humans and elephants often arise after elephants ransack agricultural fields resulting in retribution against the elephants.To address this and other problems the Cameroon Ministry of Forests and Wildlife worked with World Wildlife Fund-Cameroon and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a National Elephant Management Plan. Loomis has been part of the team charged with implementing this plan. For more than a decade he and his team have ventured into the African bush to fit wild elephants with radio collars used to track elephant movements and migratory patterns. The result has been a significant decrease in human – elephant conflicts and a sharp decline in elephant deaths. The N.C. Zoo Society has provided most of the funding for the N.C. Zoo’s part in the plan. The Zoo Society also funds the Field Trip Earth educational website which reports on the Elephants of Cameroon project with notes from field journals and photographs. Field Trip Earth is provided as a resource for teachers students and researchers.“We are proud of Dr. Loomis and pleased to be part of this important effort to protect African elephants” said Russ Williams N.C. Zoo Society executive director. “The work being accomplished in Cameroon will help ensure the survival of the largest land animal on our planet while also respecting the needs of growing human populations.”The AZA a nonprofit organization established in 1924 is America’s leading accrediting organization for zoos and aquariums and accredits only those institutions that have achieved rigorous standards for animal care education wildlife conservation and science. The AZA gives the International Conservation Award to accredited institutions for exceptional efforts toward habitat preservation species restoration and support of biodiversity in the wild.The North Carolina Zoological Society is a private non-profit organization that supports the North Carolina Zoo and conservation. The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources William G. Ross Jr. Secretary; Michael F. Easley Governor.###