Hi, I’m Michelle and I’m busy coordinating our Conservation Fund from home during the Covid 19 lockdown! I have been in this role for 3 years following a 15-year zookeeping career at Auckland Zoo, and while I miss being hands-on with animals, I love being able to support amazing work in the wild all around the world. I have always wanted to work with animals and as I got older, I became interested in conservation, so Auckland Zoo has been the perfect fit for me.

The Conservation Fund began in 2001 as a small initiative led by keepers. We held staff quiz nights and sold small items from a cart during zoo events, then held bigger fundraisers like breakfast with the tigers (next to the enclosure, our participants weren’t the breakfast!) and African themed evenings with dinner and a tour. Nowadays, we have recently started TradeMe fundraising auctions (look out for them post lockdown!) but the majority of our funds come from you! When you buy a ticket to come to the zoo you are supporting conservation in the wild, here in New Zealand and overseas, and together we have raised over $4 million!

Coordinating the AZCF involves liaising with our partners, with Auckland Foundation (who do our granting), as well as the CF Working Group and CF Committee. The latter make the final decisions on our granting based on recommendations from the Working Group, a group made up of representatives from around the zoo. Part of their responsibility is to assess funding applications from established partners and those organisations seeking to partner with us for the first time. We have a process for this to standardise what can be a very difficult decision and to ensure important considerations are taken into account. They may also be required to investigate new projects, for example if we would like to expand our support in a certain region, or to review our current projects to ensure they are still a good fit for us.

Some of my busiest times happen twice a year when the AZCF Small Grants Programme opens. These are grants up to $5,000, from a total project cost of no more than $20,000, and open to developing countries and New Zealand. The aim is to provide funding for ongoing projects or pilot programmes with clear conservation value. Occurring bi-annually, one round will have a theme, while the other is an open, ‘general’ round. Previous themes have included freshwater, the South Pacific and invertebrates (coinciding with the zoo hosting the science exhibition ‘Bug Lab’).


Kaitiaki for Kākāpō - Part 1

Michelle was one of the key staff helping to care for kākāpō chicks during the 2019 bumper breeding season

The small grants programme attracts a large number of applications from a range of countries – from Ghana, to Nepal, to Argentina, as well as from all around Aotearoa. This keeps me busy as each application is considered; taking into account the project aims and objectives, the anticipated achievements and evaluation, and of course the budget, to create a short list of potential projects. This is done with a certain amount of guilt, as I would love to fund so many of these amazing projects aiming to study or protect endangered species from around the world! The CF Committee then meets to discuss (argue?!) and finalise those that will receive funding – about five projects each round. The committee is made up of 8 people (some external to the zoo) with varying backgrounds, so we have a range of expertise and experience to draw upon during the decision-making.

I am lucky to work with such a dedicated and passionate bunch of people, fitting in this work around their busy jobs, all striving to make a difference to wildlife and the environment. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has forecast that 30% of the world's species of wildlife will disappear over the next 50 years, so thank you so much for your support as we provide assistance to carry out vital field conservation work around the world.