Imagine it’s Thanksgiving weekend, and the phone rings with the sad news that the very last Hawaiian honeycreeper bird on Earth has passed away. Would someone be able to accept the package and extract this bird’s cells? In 2004, that’s exactly what happened to researcher Marlys Houck in our genetics department. Techniques for freezing bird cells were in the early stages, so the pressure was on. Thankfully, she was able to grow the honeycreeper’s cells and add them to the Frozen Zoo at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “We will never hear the honeycreeper’s song again, but we can learn from its genetic code,” said Oliver Ryder, Ph.D., director of the department. To this day, that honeycreeper is the only extinct species represented in the Frozen Zoo.
There is a great deal of science behind saving species, and that is what our 200 researchers at the Institute are committed to. Located next to the Safari Park, the Institute is the largest zoo-based multidisciplinary research effort in the world, at work solving conservation challenges in everything from wildlife diseases to animal behavior to reproduction riddles. Our dedicated scientists carry out research vital to the conservation of animals, plants, and habitats both locally and globally, with fieldwork taking place in more than 35 countries.
The cells of that last, lone honeycreeper speak to the urgency of our vision: to lead the fight against extinction.
We are committed to generating, sharing, and applying scientific knowledge to help save animals, plants, and habitats around the world. We have more than 132 conservation projects in more than 35 countries. Preserving biodiversity unites our work.