Meet the Virginia Zoo’s International Conservation Partners

When the second-ever Southern white rhinoceros calf was born at the Virginia Zoo in November 2023, our Africa: Okavango Delta trail keepers saw an opportunity to highlight conservation work happening in the calf’s native territory. They named her after Sergeant Nkateko Letti Mzimba, a ranger with The Black Mambas, the first all-female, anti-poaching organization in South Africa. Sgt. Mzimba was recently named 2023’s Best Field Ranger in Africa for her passionate efforts to protect rhinos and other wildlife species, as well as her work to educate surrounding communities on the importance of wildlife conservation.

Craig Spencer, biodiversity manager for the Black Mambas’ parent organization, Transfrontier Africa, said the Mambas’ overall goal is to ensure all megafauna complete their entire natural lifecycle without becoming victim to poachers, and they work day and night to protect the rhinos and other wildlife living in Kruger National Park from human threats. 

Letti’s keepers hope the meaning behind her name will bring awareness to the Black Mambas and other organizations doing on-the-ground work to protect wildlife in Africa, while inspiring young women to chase their passions and stand up for what they believe in. If you’d like to support the Mambas, they say one of the biggest ways you can alleviate roadblocks to their work is through donation, but spreading awareness about their efforts through mediums like social media is also a significant way to make a difference.

Follow along with their work at @blackmambasapu on Facebook and @theblackmambas on Instagram.

“How can people in the U.S. help the Black Mambas in Africa? Support your local zoo. If you didn’t have zoos, you wouldn’t have the opportunity for populations in the northern hemisphere to get engaged with wild animals and generate a sector that loves, nurtures and cares a lot about these animals.”

– Craig Spencer, biodiversity manager of Transfrontier Africa

Wondering how you can partner with the Virginia Zoo to support conservation efforts around the world? Every time you purchase an admission ticket, membership or souvenir at the Zoo, your dollar is making a difference! Read on to learn more about some of the organizations we support through our Act for Wildlife fund:

Representatives from the International Rhino Foundation in Indonesia thank the Virginia Zoo for its continued support of their mission.

For over 10 years, the Virginia Zoo has proudly supported many wildlife conservation organizations such as the Malayan tiger conservation through the Tiger Conservation Campaign out of the Minnesota Zoo, the International Rhino Foundation, the Hornbill Research Foundation and the Turtle Survival Alliance. Other organizations the Virginia Zoo supports include Action for Cheetahs in Kenya, the Red Panda Network and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Check out some of the newest additions to the Virginia Zoo’s conservation partners:

Pride Lion Conservation Alliance  
The Pride Lion Conservation Alliance launched out of the Houston Zoo in 2015 with a goal of establishing a new, collaborative approach to lion conservation. Members are using their collective experience as leaders, influencers, strategists, and on-the-ground field conservationists, with a solutions-focused approach to halt the decline of lion populations.

According to the Pride Alliance, the wild African lion population has decreased nearly 90% in recent decades, and their range has shrunk dramatically. Today, nearly half of their range is in unprotected, residential areas. The Pride Alliance engages thousands of people each year to address the biggest threats to lions and improve the lives of local people. Their programs include: Human-lion conflict prevention, snaring and poisoning mitigation, applied research and monitoring of lion populations, veterinary care support and more.

Vulture Conservation Foundation 
The Vulture Conservation Foundation strives to recover Europe’s four vulture species populations by initiating, facilitating and supporting conservation actions and research by collaborating with governments, businesses, local communities, wildlife-focused NGOs and people. Vultures face threats to their survival including illegal wildlife poisoning, habitat loss, reduced food availability and collisions with infrastructure. The Vulture Conservation Foundation’s work seeks to help Europe’s vulture populations become self-sustaining, healthy and able to occupy most of their natural ranges while being valued by all.

A Red-Tail Hawk perched on a hand at the Virginia Zoo

North American Bird Conservation Initiative  
The U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative Committee was established in 1999 as a coalition of state and federal government agencies, private organizations and bird initiatives in the United States working to ensure the long-term health of North America’s native bird populations. Collaborative efforts are aimed at the U.S. and tri-national bird conservation communities to inform and highlight new frontiers in bird conservation.