The director of conservation for Palm Desert’s Living Desert zoo has been appointed as the head of a conservation program aimed at protecting a rare and endangered species of porpoise, zoo officials announced Tuesday.
Dr. James Danoff-Burg will head the Vaquita Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Species Program, an outreach plan to collaborate with all accredited zoos and aquariums to develop action plans and raise resources to save the vaquita, which the World Wildlife Foundation says is the world’s most rare marine mammal and nearing extinction.
Fewer than 30 exist in the world at present, according to the Living Desert, which “continues to work urgently to help save the vaquita from extinction,” according to Living Desert president and CEO Allen Monroe. “With Dr. Danoff-Burg as the lead for the SAFE program, we have taken on an even larger role and will continue to partner with other conservation organizations around the country to raise funds and assist in the effort to save them. We encourage the public to visit the Living Desert to learn more about these endangered porpoises and help do their part to save the vaquita from extinction.”
First discovered in 1958, the vaquita’s population has dwindled rapidly following accidental or illegal trapping.
The SAFE program, initiated by the nonprofit Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), takes on conservation efforts following a suspended project last year to retrieve the world’s remaining vaquita and bring them to a temporary sanctuary. That program aimed to collaborate with experts from nine countries to rescue the remaining porpoises and spur a population increase, but was suspended after the animals “reacted poorly to being in a new environment,” Living Desert officials said.
“There has been a global interest in this unique and critically endangered species and I am very proud to help these efforts by AZA zoos and aquariums,” Danoff-Burg said. “I look forward to continuing our work and finding ways to assist the vanishing vaquita and its larger ecoregion.”
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