General Sessions

The 2017 AZA Annual Conference brings three exciting General Sessions, including the Honors & Awards Lunch to celebrate excellence in the zoo and aquarium community.  
Monday, September 11
Opening General Session

New AZA President & CEO Dan Ashe will introduce the Association’s new Strategic Plan, focusing this session on the pillars of Conservation and Animal Welfare.

A lifelong animal conservationist, Dan joined AZA in January 2017 after serving as the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for nearly six years, successfully leading the agency, and its thousands of employees, during a period of great challenges. Following a 13-year career as a professional staff member of the former Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dan held positions of increasing responsibility at the Service. They include Assistant Director for External Affairs, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Science Advisor to the Director and Deputy Director.

Dan earned a bachelor degree in Biological Science from Florida State University, and graduate degree in Marine Affairs from the University of Washington, where he studied under a fellowship from the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. His master's thesis, on estuarine wetland mitigation, was published in the Coastal Zone Management Journal, in 1982.

Dan’s journey to the greater D.C. area was made possible by the National Sea Grant College Program. He was awarded a National Sea Grant Congressional Fellowship in 1982.

A conservation pioneer, leader and hero, Professor Carl Jones exemplifies what it means to truly save a species from extinction.

Passionate about animals since childhood and inspired by the famous British conservationist Gerry Durrell, Carl has dedicated his life and career to restoring endangered animal populations and habitat, approaching conservation with a clear understanding of the necessary balance within an ecosystem. He is responsible for developing and leading successful recoveries for reptiles, mammals and birds, including the pink pigeon, echo parakeet and, most famously, the Mauritius kestrel. Carl brought the total population of the rarest bird on the planet from only four individuals to nearly 400 over the course of a decade.

As Chief Scientist for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Carl played a central role in the creation of Mauritius’ first national park and also led the formation of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, where he is the Scientific Director.

Carl’s vision, action and determination prove that changing the future for threatened species is possible. For his unyielding efforts and momentous conservation achievements, he was awarded the 2016 Indianapolis Prize.

Since his appointment in 2004, Wayne Pacelle has dramatically driven the growth of The HSUS through mergers, volunteer engagement, and a remarkable range of corporate and policy gains on animal protection issues – from animal fighting and anti-cruelty laws to factory farming, puppy mills, and horse protection. The HSUS and its international affiliate are involved in all 50 U.S. states and in 50 countries.

The HSUS is the nation’s largest animal care provider, and also the nation’s leading advocacy organization for animals. The organization has helped pass more than 1,100 state animal protection laws and more than 100 federal statutes and other gains in Congress during Pacelle’s tenure. His 2011 book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them and his 2016 book, The Humane Economy: How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming the Lives of Animals, are both New York Times bestsellers. In the later work, Pacelle describes a revolution in business and government that is changing forever how we treat animals and conduct commerce. He’s written for Foreign Affairs and for major newspapers throughout the U.S. He’s appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk shows, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, 60 Minutes, and just about every other major outlet in the nation.

Non-Profit Times named Pacelle Executive of the Year in 2005, and he’s been on the “Power and Influence Top 50” list among non-profit organizations five times in recent years.
Tuesday, September 12
General Session

Chair of the AZA Board of Directors, Dennis Kelly, addresses the community and recognizes the Outstanding Service Awards. Dan Ashe will continue to address the Association’s new Strategic Plan, focusing this session on the pillars of Perception and Relevancy.

Tuesday’s General Session will also feature a discussion, moderated by Shedd Aquarium's President & CEO, Bridget Coughlin, of young conservationists, representing diverse perspectives and backgrounds, to explore the relevancy of zoos and aquariums in conservation. How do zoos and aquariums build trust with the younger generation to positively influence the perception of zoos and aquariums?

Dennis W. Kelly is the director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, a position he has held since 2010. Kelly oversees the 163-acre Zoo in Washington, D.C., and the 3,200-acre Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia.

Kelly is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Zoo, which has more than 2 million visitors a year, and manages the Zoo's research programs, including groundbreaking work by Zoo scientists in conservation biology around the world. He also oversees membership and education programs coordinated by the Zoo's support organization, Friends of the National Zoo. The Zoo has more than 450 full-time staff, including keepers, curators and scientists, and a combined budget for fiscal year 2016 of about $70 million. Kelly has overseen significant improvements to visitor experience at the Zoo, as well as to the research capacity, educational programs and financial resources of the Zoo and SCBI.

Prior to his time at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, Kelly served as president of Zoo Atlanta for six years, where he enhanced scientific and animal welfare programs, visitor experience, and rebuilt Zoo Atlanta's marketing, government relations and fundraising capabilities.

Kelly earned a bachelor's degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a master's degree from Harvard University and is a veteran of the United States Army.

Bridget C. Coughlin, Ph.D., provides strategic oversight and direction to all activities and initiatives at Shedd Aquarium. Her experience and expertise are directed at long-term planning that advances the aquarium’s mission of enhancing public understanding and appreciation of the aquatic world and continues its long tradition of excellence.

Dr. Coughlin has been at the forefront of developing innovative experiences that educate, entertain and enhance the guest experience, and her many accomplishments have established her as one of the brightest leaders in the field. Her commitment to learning extends well beyond the walls of Shedd. Dr. Coughlin is a devoted advocate of public education and expanding STEM programs, and children’s interest in science, across the United States.
Youth Panelists

Tuesday, September 12
Honors & Awards Lunch

Attendees will enjoy lunch and honor excellence in the profession. Prestigious professional excellence awards will be presented, along with many other honors presented by the AZA Honors & Awards Committee. The incoming and outgoing AZA Board of Directors and Ethics Board Members will be recognized for their leadership. Incoming Chair of the Board, Jim Breheny, will also address attendees.

As Executive Vice President and General Director, Zoos and Aquarium and Director of the Bronx Zoo, Jim Breheny is responsible for the operation and management of the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, the Central Park, Prospect Park and Queens Zoos. Collectively, the zoos and aquarium house over 14,000 animals representing 1,500 species. Jim earned a B.S. in Biology from Manhattan College and an M.S. in Biology from Fordham University. He has been with WCS for 44 years, 36 years as a full-time staff member. A former Curatorial Science Fellow and Curator, he was named General Curator in 2004, Director of the Bronx Zoo in 2005 and was appointed General Director in 2011. Jim was an adjunct professor of Biology at Manhattan College from 1988 - 2005.

Jim is a Professional Fellow in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and on its Board of Directors, where he is currently Chair-elect of the AZA. Jim served on the AZA’s Membership and Professional Development Committees, the Field Conservation Committee (FCC) and as Board Liaison to the Wildlife Conservation Management Committee (WCMC) and Safety Committee.  He is currently liaison to the AZA Accreditation Commission. Jim is a member of the Zoo Advisory Board of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), on the Board of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation (GPCF) and is a past board member of the International Iguana Foundation (IIF) and the Turtle Conservancy (TC) where he still serves as advisor.  Jim is also the driving force behind Animal Planet’s popular docuseries THE ZOO, which is now filming its second season. 

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